How Subbuteo shaped a teenage life

How Subbuteo shaped a teenage life

By Andrew Mosley | 29/01/2021

How Subbuteo shaped a teenage life


IT was an intense start to an often chaotic fixture.

Back in the ‘70s there was a fierce rivalry between England and Scotland that occasionly spilled onto the terraces, peaking in 1977 when the Tartan Army invaded Wembley and, indeed, stole most of it.

There’s only eight seconds gone in the game — of which I am demonstrating an early ability to multi-task by not only playing in it but also supplying the commentary — when Scotland score and the England team threatens to walk out.

This was Subbuteo table football, played between my brother and myself in my bedroom. He was England, I was Scotland and he was furious. “Scotland have scored (pause for laughter) after just eight seconds (more laughter), an incredible start and the England team look like they are going to walk out. They are giving in,” went my commentary, immediately exposing Kenneth Wolstenholme’s 1966 World Cup Final “they think it’s all over” moment as rank amateurism.

The bit about “giving in” I knew would ensure my brother would continue to take part in the match as he wouldn’t want to be known as a quitter.

Obviously I had to ease off a bit and even let him score as there was no way he would have seen it out to the end had I gone, say, 10-0 up. Even when I did “concede” he accused me of “letting it in on purpose”, which I had.

The ease of my victory encouraged me to continue playing Subbuteo for many years longer than I should have.

I was forced to take stock of my situation one Friday night when the phone rang in the middle of a crucial and feisty World Cup match between Argentina and Brazil (there was only me playing, you understand) and my mum called me over. “It’s for you. It’s a girl.”

“Unlikely,” I thought, and why would she be calling on a Friday night when any self-respecting teenager would be in the kitchen playing Subbuteo by himself?

I was uneasy and answered nervously. “Do you know Deborah Taylor?” said a voice at the other end, calling from the youth club, where young people with social lives went.

“No,” I said, bluntly. I did but needed to buy some time.

“Glasses and curly hair, in your Russian group.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Do you want to go out with her?”



Harsh. I had been truthful, straight to the point and generously broke off from a nicely poised World Cup quarter final match to take that call and consider Deborah’s offer. Also, in my defence, the caller hadn’t sold her to me too well.

I returned to the floor to continue my game, which was being played under floodlights and in front of roughly painted spectators, purchased alongside a stand to create that real match-day experience.

The game wasn’t the same though. My heart wasn’t in it anymore.

My brother, meanwhile, was in the youth club. If I’d lost that game against him all those years ago our young lives might have been so different.