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Peter Upton's

Subbuteo Tribute Website.

Five-a-side and Junior Versions.

My main problem with Subbuteo was always the sheer size of the standard pitch, and the subsequent difficulty of finding a table or even floor space big enough to house it. Subbuteo Games Ltd tried to tackle this problem by producing a number of five-a-side versions for their classic game. These fast-action editions started back in the 1950s era of flat figures, and continued until Waddingtons cut back the range of sports in the early 1980s. 

In addition to five-a-sides, this page wraps up the Subbuteo football catalogue by illustrating the two editions produced for younger football fans - Targetman, and Sport Billy.

May 2000: Thanks to Mark Brady for photocopying the Football Express rules for me, and explaining the make-up of the teams in this set. 
March 2001: Thanks to Eddie Lang for photocopying the Top Scorer rules for me.

Fivesides.

 

"Fivesides" is the nice straight forward name given to the earliest five-a-side game produced, or as the advert above calls it replica "Indoor Soccer". This was played on a half sized pitch with the celluloid flat players of the 1950s.

This was the third "companion" game produced by Peter Adolph, following the "Soccer Market" card game, and cricket. It first appeared in the range in 1949-50, and was still available in 1970-71. A very impressive run.

This set had a unique style of five-a-side football, and none of the later editions work in the same way. The game used a three inch wide goal that was not  much higher than the tiny ball provided. Think pea sized (or Subbuteo cricket ball sized). Goalkeepers were not used, you got extra points for scoring in the corner sections of the goal. The set also had a plastic fence surround which was supplied as a long strip of tape. This tape wrapped around metal clips based on the set T flag posts. As with the flags, the post would be pushed through the cloth, and this would hold the fence rigid (hopefully). The game was advertised as having no corner kicks, throw-ins, or goal kicks, and with the low goals, you clearly weren't supposed to chip the ball (I suspect that the ball was too small for chipping in any event). There were three different sizes of box set to choose from, and it is interesting to note that only the deluxe set included players. You were clearly meant to buy this set as an add on to your existing layout. The adverts suggest that you could use this set for training and, as it doesn't have goalkeepers, I imagine this would work very well. It used five outfield players per side.

 

Introductory Outfit:

Containing rules, miniature goals, small balls and 10 foot of plastic surround (7/11d in the 1960s)

Standard Edition:

Introductory contents plus a "marker out" cloth of the necessary design. (16/9d in the 1960s)
Deluxe Set: Standard contents plus celluloid plastic figures and plastic bases. (19/11d in the 1960s)

The introductory Outfit came in a tiny box, which was also used for the "Combination" cricket game. The boxes illustrated are from a 1950s introductory outfit (where the box is the same dimensions as the fivesides sticker), and a 1960s deluxe set. You may just be able to make out the fact the the 1950s box has the producer as "P A Adolph", whereas the later set is made by "Subbuteo Games Ltd". The extra writing on the 1950s lid says "as played at the festival of Football in London, June 1949, by Charlton, Chelsea, Brentford, Derby County, Wolverhampton, West Ham, Tottenham Hotspurs, and Romford."

 

A bigger difference between the early and later sets is the goal material. Like much of Subbuteo's accessory range, the original goals were made from metal, but this was switched to plastic in the 1960s.

The deluxe version of fivesides was still advertised in the 1970-71 catalogue where it was still sold with flat players. The following year, it was replaced by the delightful Football Express.

Football Express.

   

The first OO scale five-a-side game arrived in 1971-72, and was called Football Express was produced. The box points out that this game "incorporates five-a-side" in case you were confused by the name change. In this version of the game, the pitch is reproduced on the bottom of the box, with the box sides become the fence surround. There are also curved plastic corner pieces, which prevent the ball becoming stuck in the corners (a problem with the rival Super Striker pitch), and these also strengthen the box at its weakest points. The goals lock into the box, which means that the whole goal stands inside the area of the pitch. If there was a space behind the goal, this would've made a great ice hockey set. On each side of the goal is another piece of curved plastic which again throws the ball back out into play. 

The pictures above hopefully illustrate the two variations of this box set. The game on the left is the more unusual folding version, and you can probably just make out the line where the walls divide at the centre of the pitch. The picture on the right shows the large flat box of the non-folding version. It might have been a pain to store this one, but it gives a better playing surface as a result. 

Football Express Rules.

The first thing you notice when reading the rulebook is the reverse to the normal shooting rules. In Football Express, shots must come from outside the semi-circular "goal area", so long range shooting is encouraged. In addition, only the goalkeeper is allowed to remain inside the "goal area", and if a scoring player finishes up inside this semi-circle, then the goal is disallowed. This sounds tricky to avoid to me. Does getting caught up in the net count as being inside the circle? That's where my players always finish :-)

Football Express is played with four outfield players, plus a goalkeeper. The goalkeeper has two figures - a diving version on a rod, and a free standing version for playing up field, which he is encouraged to do. The rules suggest that the diving goalie be used mainly for defending free kicks and penalties. You can only change between goalies when your free-standing 'keeper is inside his own goal area, and you are in possession of the ball. If the free-standing goalkeeper is inside his area, and the opposition have the ball, then you are allowed to flick him to try and intercept any shots - which sounds like a laugh... 

Football Express looks and plays more like normal Subbuteo than five-sides, although it uses the small ball from the range, and the goals are lower. However, as there are slight differences in the goals and goalkeepers, and because this set was produced in the early 1970s, when every sport had an accessory range, further Express items exist.

E300 Football Express Team.
Consisting of five player figures, including substitute, plus two goalkeepers.

        

The above illustration suggests that there was also a ball included with the team, but this doesn't always seem to be the case. In 1976 this set cost 55p, compared to 75p for a full eleven a side team. The teams were available in the most popular colours in the normal range (the ones also quoted for corner kick and throw-in figures). These are 1, 2, 5 (Man City), 7 (West Ham etc), 10 (Fulham etc), 16 (Arsenal), 21 (Leeds), 25 (Celtic), 41 (Liverpool), and 42 (Chelsea). As these are some of the more common Subbuteo teams of the 1970s, you would expect these teams to be of only casual interest to collectors. However, for some reason Subbuteo chose to produce the majority of Express teams in the moulded players usually reserved for box sets. Which means lots more odd variations abound. The third picture above shows a Celtic player in the "wide shorts" figure. The moulded heavyweight and the moulded scarecrow were also used. It's also worth noting that the Celtic player has his boots painted, which is unusual for moulded players. Not all Express teams have painted boots though. 

There are even more variations when we come to goalkeepers, which will be discussed more fully under E302. For example, in the set owned by contributor Mark Brady, the outfield players are a moulded figure, but the free-standing goalkeeper is a standard heavyweight. Note that the goalkeepers use a short metal rod, probably left over ones from the 1950s flat keepers (but shorter than the 1960s metal rods). 

E301: Football Express goals.
Two special lock in goals, with real netting.

These replacement goals are rather specialised, so I imagine that they only needed to be purchased to replace broken sets. The goal is much lower than the usual Subbuteo goal, and has a slight ramp at the front which the ball has to pass over to enter the net. The back of the goal has bars and clips which fix the goal to the Express arena. 

E302: Football Express goalkeepers.
Two diving and two crouching in coloured bases with control rods.

   

As Football Express goalkeepers were produced on a metal rod, you couldn't just buy C102 in the normal range. So this extra accessory was produced. 

As mentioned in the rules section, Football Express used two types of goalkeeper. A free standing version for playing up-field, and a diving one to defend set pieces. The proper versions are shown above. These figures wore tracksuit bottoms, and were unique to Football Express (or should have been - the odd one has been seen in 1970s club editions, so keep a look out). The crouching goalkeeper should really have been on a standard heavyweight base (for use as an outfielder) while the diving keeper was on the smaller "flat figure" base as used by all keepers on metal rods.  However, as usual with Subbuteo, the right stock was not always available, and so variations were common. The common ones are:- 

  • The crouching goalkeeper is often on the small base, and can therefore be fitted to the rod.

  • Standard box set diving and crouching goalkeepers are common.

  • Sometimes the standard goalkeepers have had their legs painted blue to represent a tracksuit, even though they are clearly wearing shorts. 

  • Standard heavyweight outfield players can be substituted for the free standing goalkeeper. The set above shows this, with the common red/green combo for C106.

Football Express had a much shorter life than the fivesides game. It ran in the catalogues from 1971-72 until 1977. There was no five-a-side game in the 1978 catalogue, but 1979 saw the introduction of the budget Top Scorer version.

Top Scorer.
 

After the flashy Football Express came this budget edition, which was available from 1978 to 1981. This is a six-a-side rather than a five-a-side (although note that again the teams seem to include a substitute). It is played on a half size, but otherwise standard pitch, with a pair of standard Tournament goals (C154). There is no fence surround. 

Top Scorer rules

The key selling point with this set was that it was designed for training - as shown on the box lid, and inside the instruction booklet. This A5 leaflet has one page of six-a-side rules (no offside, only shoot in opponents half of the pitch) - the rest is dedicated to practicing Subbuteo skills. There are six exercises to do, and goalkeeping is the only one that requires a friend - useful for those of us whose friends have grown up already! The exercises are: -

If you've added all those scores up, you should have a score from a maximum of 160 points. The booklet also contains a results table where you can record 13 full training sessions.

You might think that this cheap version, which was still current in the fabulous 1981 catalogue, would be the last gasp of the five-a-side game. But you'd be wrong...

Indoor Edition.

In fact, this is the final five-a-side edition - finishing the series with a bang, not a whimper! This highly desirable set was shown on the 1982 poster, and was only produced for a year or two. In some ways it is back to the fold-over version of Football Express, but instead of using the box, the pitch was supplied flat packed. The sides were then folded up and held in position by the supplied corner pieces and side panels. The blue pitch is striking, and is of Astropitch quality. Knowing how the Astropitch reacts to folds, you can imagine that this pitch tends to suffer from a slight ridge at the centre, but the sides work well. The other problem, as shared with the early Striker pitches, is that a card backed pitch has a tendency to warp. 

The rest of the accessories are not up to Football Express quality, with standard C148 goals, and normal lightweight players. The teams are illustrated here with five outfield players, but I don't know if one is a substitute or not.

The indoor edition box shows a NASL game, and was mainly aimed at the US market along with the second (and larger) group of NASL teams, which were released at the same time (540-560) . This is confirmed by the fact that the indoor arena was sold as a separate accessory in the US, and was still being advertised by US distributor Jokari as late as 1987.

Junior Editions.
Targetman.
Including pitch, rebound wall, new type lock-in goals, hand painted spring action figures...

Produced in a big flat box, this was a game along similar lines to those in the rival Striker and Big League, featuring large players with a kicking action. As with Football Express, the pitch was built into the box. As the two boxes are the same pitch side, it would have made sense to save money and reuse the same components for each game. However, this was not the case. The pitch was similar, but the box was almost twice as deep as the Express version, meaning that different corner pieces has to be produced. The Express corners are red, and these are blue. In addition, whereas Football Express had small goals that fitted inside the box, and therefore within the pitch, Targetman had large goals, which clipped/slid onto gaps in the fence surround, so the goal was outside the pitch. This was actually a sensible option, and was very easy to set up for play - useful in a game for youngsters.

One thing the set did have in common with Football Express was the use of the small size Subbuteo ball.

The figures in the set were absolutely huge - much bigger than even the rival Striker figures of the time as you can see. The base of the Targetman figure had a central spike which was affixed to the player's waist. This meant that unlike its rivals, the Targetman player had no standing leg, and could be used left or right footed. The legs were on a metal spring-like clip, which was pulled back and then let go to strike the ball. As the box illustration suggests, the teams were painted in the colours of Stoke City and Ipswich Town.

Andy Stadden, who owned a Targetman set has told me that "the main problem with the game was that kicking the ball forwards led to a shot high into the air. It was much better to turn the figure round and kick backwards, this was also a more powerful shot. Thus for the whole game the players would be used facing the wrong way!" 


  

I couldn't resist using the Sport Billy logo. Sport Billy was a cartoon character representing fair play, who was official mascot of FIFA in the early 1980s. I believe he was also a mascot for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, which would explain the red and blue outfit he is wearing on the box. This was a five-a-side game, and was played on a Top-Scorer sized pitch, complete with Sport Billy logo. The goals and balls were the standard Subbuteo products. If you think the goals look small in the top picture, this is because the Billy playing figures are actually much bigger than the standard players.

Pictured here are a couple of Billy figures escorting a heavyweight player from the field (like a couple of huge bouncers). The figures were well detailed (SB embossed on the shirts, FIFA on the shorts), but they were certainly not Subbuteo's best work. Wide cheeks and sunken eyes give the figures a slightly scary look. The goalkeepers are identical to the outfield players, and were provided with separate rods. Surprisingly, the rods were slightly different to those in the interchangeable goalkeepers set, having a small circular connection to the keeper's base.

         

The rules came as a fold-out booklet with a basic version of the Standard Subbuteo rules. This bright and cheerful rule sheet was beautifully illustrated in typical football comic book style.

Like Targetman, this set was an attempt to catch potential Subbuteo players at an earlier age. As with Targetman, you get the impression that more thought went into presentation than play testing. Consider this: Younger children have smaller fingers, so is flicking a much bigger player likely to be a success? A bigger problem is the obvious one. Subbuteo players need to be properly balanced, and great thought is given to the height of the figure and the size and weight of the base. Just increasing the size of the components and hoping for the best is asking for trouble. It is no surprise to find the Billy figures to be top heavy, and that flicking them any further than a couple of inches is a frustrating experience. Still, at least it had a small pitch.... Actually, the figures are a nice size for a child to grip, so I suspect that most kids simply picked the players up and whacked the ball with them. "Most kids" meaning the half-dozen or so who actually owned this short-lived and poor selling set!

Well, that brings us to the end of another slice of Subbuteo nostalgia. Pick from the pages below to find out about other parts of the Subbuteo range (or look at rival five-a-side game Striker).


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