Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What The Flick?: Subbuteo in Mallorca

It was spring 1980. Everton of the old English First Division were taking on West Ham of the Second Division in the FA Cup semi-final. Everton were naturally expected to win. They didn't. The first match was drawn and in the replay Frank Lampard (senior) sealed the win for West Ham with two minutes of extra time remaining. West Ham went to Wembley and beat Arsenal in the final.

There is an alternative version of events. This one was played out not at Villa Park, the location for the first match, but in a flat above WH Smith in Ealing, West London. A toss of the coin gave me Everton, which might have appeared to have been a disadvantage. The blue shirts and white shorts of this Everton had come with the original box, as had the red shirts and white shorts of, say, Manchester United. West Ham were to be a later acquisition. They were all intact. Everton were not. The odd limb (arm) was missing. Some had needed to be glued back into position. They had been victims of being inadvertently trodden on or sat on by the dog.

The semi-final was to defy normal Subbuteo rules of what were then twenty-five minutes each half. It was over the full ninety minutes. Despite the handicap of one-armed Asa Hartfords or Gary Megsons, Everton routed West Ham. Brian Kidd scored five, and the final result was an 11-0 victory.

West Ham were not novices, one should point this out. But what happened on that spring afternoon was that Everton turned on a display of Total Subbuteo. There had never been such flickery-trickery before. At least where I was concerned. Such were the heights attained that I decided that the time had come to retire. I hung up my little plastic footballers for the last time, aware that I could probably never again reach the levels of that eleven-goal thrashing. I have not played Subbuteo ever since.

Subbuteo was the only table (or floor) football game to come anywhere near resembling the actual game. There were other attempts, such as the Chad Valley, the one with plastic players on rubber bases pressed into sockets. If you levered a player back too much, he popped out of the socket and smacked you in the eye. Not as realistic and potentially more hazardous.

In 2000, Hasbro, which by then owned Subbuteo, pulled the plug: "The decision to cease production has been made as a result of the huge number of football-related products which have flooded the market in recent years, but the possibility remains that the Subbuteo brand may make a return at some stage in the future." Which is what happened. Subbuteo did return and is flourishing once more, not least in Mallorca (well, sort of).

There is a team called Mallorca Águilas de Llucmajor. It is the only team from the Balearics to be in the Spanish league or indeed to take part in the European champions league. Formed six years ago, the Mallorca "Eagles" are based at the sports centre in Arenal. In November they went off to Rome to take part in La Champions League. There were three Spanish sides in all: the Eagles plus Tiburones FM and CAP Ciudad de Murcia.

Things didn't go too well. On the website of the Asociación Española de Jugadores de Fútbol de Mesa, a report says that it should be noted that there was "little fair play" by the powerful teams. This didn't extend to removing an arm or two from the opposition, but the implication was that some teams "were allowed" to win. The Federation International of Sports Table Football is said to be aware of these "facts", and the long-term future of the Champions League seems to be in danger.

The facts aren't disclosed, however. All one can ascertain is that the powerful teams come from where the power resides in European Subbuteo, which is Italy, a nation never in the past of course involved in anything remotely shady when it comes to football (the real thing, that is).

Anyway, Bari Reggio Emilia went on to win the tournament, the fourth time they have done so since the Champions League started in 2010. As for the Eagles, they failed to qualify for the final stages. They had to settle for being in the consolation tournament, the Europa League, in which they came ... well, unfortunately they came last.

There wasn't an eleven-nil disaster awaiting. The worst result was a nine-nil defeat for one of the four-member team against the Bologna Tigers (and they only play fifteen minutes each half nowadays). But the Eagles live to flick another day. Maybe they should re-name themselves the Toffees.

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