An Adidas Tango ball, a set of Mundial nets and converting Newcastle to Juventus; if you pre-date the Playstation generation this was all you needed as a kid to experience a European night right there on your living room carpet. Kevin Henning tells us of his ten greatest Subbuteo moments.

The opening day

I’d been aware of Subbuteo for quite a while and was expecting a set for my 8th birthday. I was awake at about 6:30 and down the stairs. The biggest box was usually saved until last on birthdays and Christmas mornings, but I sort of knew I was getting the set and was honestly more excited about the additional accessories that were wrapped up before my eyes. The box was opened and I held up the pitch that would be host to a thousand matches. Moving on to the smaller presents I was delighted to find a few extra teams, Watford, Tottenham and Luton Town being amongst those that I recall from that first day as a flicker. I honestly cannot recall ever running home from school as fast as I did that day. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Lewis’s Store, Piccadilly Gardens

As well as my presents, I’d received an amount of money from friends and relatives and there was only going to be one thing I was going to be spending it on. My brother told me that the only place we should consider was John Lewis’s department store on Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester city centre.
We arrived and headed for the toy department and there stretched out in front of me was one of the 7 children’s wonders of the world. Go into a “Toys ‘r’ us” nowadays and have a look at the entire Barbie, Sindy and Bratz section and it’ll give you an idea of the scale of the shelf space reserved entirely for Subbuteo. It was a truly breath-taking sight for an eight year old. I walked out of the store that day with new teams, Adidas Tango balls, a scoreboard and a dream of having the largest collection known to man. Lewis’s was also the scene of my discovery of the greatest kit in the world of Subbuteo, Sampdoria.

Uncle Mike’s Derby Day disaster


Fast forward two months and Christmas was approaching. My Uncle Mike (a Manchester City fanatic) picked me and my brother up and took us Christmas shopping. I insisted on a visit to Lewis’s where I was told to choose one team. At this point, I have no idea why I possessed neither of the Manchester clubs. Under considerable pressure from my older brother (a red) to choose United’s set, I chose the option least likely to get me a beating. My Uncle looked like he’d been mugged. He relented and said that I could have United as long as I allowed him to buy me City as well. I’m sure that this may have been our kid’s plan all along.
Come Boxing Day, the two of us were contesting our first Manchester derby when Mike decides to call in on his way home from Maine Road. Clearly under the influence of a few drinks, he dances across the pitch and manages to crush 3 United players as he goes. Somehow, he miraculously manages to avoid every single City player. He still denies it was planned to this day!

The 10-9 thriller

As time wore on, I was playing Subbuteo more and more and becoming ever-increasingly skilful. If I was on form, I felt unbeatable. Strangely, although I’m a City fan, I felt more confident playing as Liverpool. I think my young imagination saw Subbuteo teams as a reflection of real life, as though I’d be better playing with a stronger team. This was perfect as my brother was a red as mentioned previously and we had a set of United’s away kit. I decided to set the ultimate challenge one day when I told him I could hit double figures against him without reply. We set the scoreboard up to read “Liverpool 0 Manchester United 9” knowing that the score rolled back to zero instead of ten. I set about his troops with a determination never seen before on a table football pitch. I knew this could result in a punch or four if I pulled it off but couldn’t stop. The best game I ever played ended as it had started with the scoreboard reading Livepool 0 United 9. Despite a nine goal start, I’d got to ten before him.

The FA Cup Final


Most kids find out that Father Christmas isn’t real during an uncomfortable conversation with their parents or a school yard debate. It happened to me whilst my parents were shopping at Kwik Save in Eccles and I was being looked after by my Subbuteo sibling rival.
We’d been contesting an FA Cup tournament during the Autumn school holidays and had reached the climax shortly before the folks went out shopping. My brother seemed to be delaying the final for a reason I could only presume was fear of another beating. He had an ace up his sleeve though, or to be more precise an astropitch in the airing cupboard. While they were gone, he led me into their room, opened the cupboard door and exposed an Aladdin’s cave of toys and games. All our Christmas presents were there. He quickly explained that it was time I knew the truth about old Saint Nick, whipped out the deluxe playing surface, led West Ham United to an historic victory over Liverpool (I think I was affected by nerves about the impending return of the parents), rolled up the astropitch and slung it back in the cupboard!

Equaliser versus Uncle John

I swear the following happened. During a tournament at my Uncle John’s house, I conceded a goal in the very last seconds of the semi-final. This needed decisive action. My Uncle, being the champion of fair play that he is, moved all of his defenders out of the scoring zone (remember this?) and set about celebrating his impending victory. As the stopwatch was re-started, I did the only thing I could imagine would keep me in the tie. I flicked the most powerful shot straight from kick-off. Now believe me when I tell you this, it was the greatest moment of my young life at this point, the ball shot through the air, hit Uncle John’s crossbar and bounced down onto his keeper before rolling into the goal. A legitimate goal and my single greatest act during my flicking days.

The Milan double swoop in York

A trip to York with my older cousin saw my brother and I given a fiver each to get something to remember the day by. The first shop we went into was a toy-shop where we found the Subbuteo kits of AC and Inter Milan. One each and a bit of change for an ice-cream later and we spent the rest of the day planning our first ever Coppa Italia. We already had Sampdoria and would convert Newcastle to Juventus when required.

Mundial Goals

Words cannot do justice for these mini pieces of art. My favourite ever accessory. Pure Subbuteo gold.

My son’s Christmas surprise

I couldn’t wait for my son to be old enough to play Subbuteo and at the age of five he was bought an astropitch, balls, goals City, United, Barcelona, England and Argentina. Alas, in the era of the Playstation he is far more keen on the FIFA series than the physical effort of crawling around the floor but that Christmas morning took me back to my own childhood. Obviously the good hiding he received during the Boxing Day mauling of his Barcelona team may have played a part in his lack of enthusiasm.

Drinking Guinness from the Subbuteo FA Cup

The Subbuteo child in me will never leave. That is why, unable to afford to go to the FA Cup final of 2011, I ended the night in my local pub in Hull being encouraged to sup Guinness from the model FA Cup I’d decided on taking out with me. As with any cup winning celebration, the trophy itself was forgotten about in a drunken haze and had to be retrieved the following morning. It shall have pride of place in my living room until the day Manchester City are knocked out.

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