Subbuteo Tribute Website.
The Team Colours Project.
References 1 - 55 (Card and Celluloid).
These are the teams produced for the original version of Subbuteo before the OO scale sides that so many of us played with as kids. (If you played with card sides as a kid then I'm afraid that you are showing your age just a little bit). The card figures were much loved by players for the delightful style of play they could produce (they are better than heavyweights at spinning, swerving and chipping). For this reason, they continued to be sold alongside the OO scale teams until the early 1970s, and had a devoted following amongst serious players until comparatively recently.
The colours here are understandably simple with no fancy trim. The socks on nearly all flat teams are a plain black with white hooped tops. Because of this, I've been able to crop the bottoms of the players in this list to keep the pictures at my standard 120 pixel team list height. As with all Subbuteo, this black socks rule has exceptions. Coloured socks appear on a few card sides of late date, and a few (refs 19, 49 and 50) are shown here.
The earliest Subbuteo accessory price list (that I'm aware of, anyway) was dated 1948-49. Prior to this, the accessories do not seem to have been numbered. On this first list, there were already sixteen different coloured card teams being produced. These early teams were simply printed onto plain sheet of card, and needed to be cut out with scissors. As shown (above left), each player was surrounded by a rectangular dotted line, but owners were advised to cut around the figure to improve the touch of the player. This was difficult to do around the ankles, and would often result in a crease or bend. This was bad news, especially for goalkeepers. A better idea was to cut down from the shorts, and leave the legs uncut (see the West Ham player in the team list below).
The card teams were sold as either a full team with bases (Set D), or as a pair of team sheets (Set G). Both sets were supplied with a sheet of numbers, so individual players could be identified. No clubs were assigned to the kits at this point. The teams were numbered though, and this numbering system survived right through to the end of the Waddintons era. So reference four was red and white stripes with white shorts in 1948, and was still on that number in 1996.
The notable exception to this rule was reference five. On this original list, it was a team with black and white stripes, with white shorts. However, this was an extremely short-lived team. Later in the season, Peter Adolph had released an "amendments and additions" sheet for this list, which stated that "ref 5 is not now stocked". This sheet also added ref. 17.
By the time of the 1949-50 catalogue the list had expanded to 24 teams, and Peter Adolph stated that this covered "all the English League Clubs", "the majority of Scottish clubs" and "Amateur and School Colours too numerous to mention". For the first time, this catalogue had descriptions of the colours and the sides they represented in a box format that continued to be used until well into the 1970s. This price list also had a new reference five - the sky blue of Manchester City.
A second release of the 1949-50 price list, dated to February 1950, gave the first mention of Press-out card teams. Initially, these were only available in refs 1, 2, 5, 15 and the new references of 18-24. By 1950-51 only ref 3, 4, 8, 9, 11 and 12 were still in cut-out form, and 1953-54, which was the final catalogue to mention cut-outs, had only 3, 4, 11 and 12 in this old format.
Despite celluloid production, the card teams continued to be produced as a cheaper option right through the flat era, and the first decade of the OO scale figures.
Card Team Sheets.
A surprising find by collector Alan Lee were these card sheets containing three press-out card teams. Never sold this way by Peter Adolph, I assume they are a glimpse into the production process, i.e. they are fresh from the printing firm, and awaiting the guillotine to divide them up.
Celluloid flat teams also arrived on the 1948-49 price list, but were originally only available in red/white, and blue/white. However, by the time of the "amendments" sheet later in the season, all seventeen references were available in celluloid. Interestingly, this was also the first sheet to advise that figures "are now manufactured in a new lightweight plastic" Although this same description was used well into the 1960s, this first use might suggest that the original red/white and blue/white teams were produced in a different plastic, and therefore might be distinctive.
The 1949-50 expansion caused another production blip, with only teams 1-18 available on celluloid figures. Nos. 19-24 were stated as being available only from November 1st 1950. After this, the two types ran happily side by side until the 1970s. Another odd fact, is that although you could buy a complete card team with bases, the celluloid teams were only ever sold loose figures, supplied in a little cellophane packet.
The "Alf" Figure.
The "Alf" is a variant of the Celluloid figure, named by the much missed "flat" collector Mike Hyatt, and the close-up picture came from Mike's own collection. The differences are obvious if you own a team, but are also rather difficult to describe. The face and hairline are slightly different, but key is the way the figure is punched out. If you compare these players to the West Ham player at the top of this section, the cut-out has a much more angular design, particularly noticeable with regard to the ears and the hands. I don't know how far Mike got with dating this figure. They seem to be from the 1950s, and certainly the later team references (and unsold stock in collecting circles) do not feature them. The teams I had previously seen were all from early in the range, with my latest figure being reference 17. This picture pushes that forward, with a yellow shirted reference 28 which was introduced in 1953. The "Alf" was never the dominant figure in any event, and I assume they were just part of the usual disjointed expansion of Subbuteo - where teams and accessories were produced in different locations.
September 2021: Craig Atkinson sent in a fantastic picture of more Alf figures, which were inherited from his father-in-law. This is more Alf's than I've ever seen in one place!
Card or Celluloid?
Originally, I did not make a distinction between the two types of figure on this list. This was partly because I did not have illustrations for all the figures in both types anyway, but also because most of the sides looked similar whichever format they are shown in.
However, like the majority of Subbuteo items, there seem to be slight differences between teams on the same reference number, and between some of the card/celluloid alternatives. The most frequent example is with the striped teams. Whereas the card versions have five stripes of the darkest colour, the celluloid teams generally only have four, as shown on these two shirts from reference 35. As my knowledge (and collection) of this era has grown, so I have illustrated most of the teams in both types. You can tell which are the card sides, because they are all press-out versions, and these invariably leave an ugly thick black line around the player. For example, in the above illustration, the card team is on the left.
April 2012 - I have now received pictures of all the celluloid variations currently known. A big thank you goes to Bob Varney, Blackjack, Dixie Sauntson, James Herrera, Paul Woozley and especially Pete Everett and Mike Hyatt, who have all contributed pictures for this page, and also to Paul Woodhouse, who has helped my own celluloid collection along. We still need a few pictures of card teams, so keep looking!
The Team Colours.
For this page, I've duplicated the 1949/50 catalogue with regard to team names for kits up to reference 24. After that point, I've included the date that each new kit was introduced, as well as the teams they represented on their introduction. Whilst it is great to see ex-league sides like New Brighton, Gateshead, Accrington Stanley and New Lanark in this early range, it is a shame that they all wore basic kits that were also used by other teams. This leaves the original Bradford (Park Avenue) at reference 19 as the big rarity of the period.
It must be remembered that the early sides in this range were in production for over twenty years, which is longer than the heavyweight figures managed. So variations are likely.
Teams 51-54 are common in celluloid as they were in Waddingtons unsold stock released to the collectors community in the 1990s. It is worth noting that all these celluloids have the final round collar/long sleeved look. This was the fashion for football shirts at the time, and the OO scale figures had changed to this design in 1967. Reference 55 Anderlecht was not in this stock, and is one of the rarer sides out there.
Card teams in the 51-55 range are more of a puzzle. Several late 1960s catalogues state that the card teams were available in references 1-50 only, and so perhaps not all these teams were not released in this figure. For a long time, Bob Varney's Anderlecht was the only one of these sides I had seen, but in 2019 a card reference 51 surfaced, which I was lucky enough to photograph at the Worthing table soccer club. (note that one player in this team had white socks, which was weird). Bob has since sent me pictures of a further ref 55 team, which is owned by a friend. I've added more pictures, as this really is a lovely side. Bob confirms that he has seen the reference 51, but not any of the other teams in this block. Do any old players have them lying around, or is this all there was?
Daniel Tatarsky's Subbuteo book "Flick to Kick" has various pictures of unusual Subbuteo items to tantalise collectors. These two card teams feature in the early box set illustration on page 34. A further copy of the claret and blue hoop kit was seen at the Tunbridge Wells Museum display in 2005.
These kits were produced around 1948-50, but I have not seen them advertised on any paperwork. However, I have uncovered a few clues. The breakthrough was finding out which team wore the distinctive claret and blue hoops. Checking the usual suspects at the wonderful historic football kit website turned up blank. It was not Aston Villa, Burnley, Scunthorpe, or Crystal Palace. Then much later, looking for something else entirely, I found that this was a kit worn by Walsall until 1949.
I then received copies of a lot of old catalogues from Ashley Hemming (much appreciated). These teams were not mentioned, but it made me look at the team colours list in the 1949-50 catalogue once again. This is the first catalogue in which a team names are mentioned. Strangely, two English teams are not in alphabetical order in this catalogue - Walsall at the bottom of reference one, below Wrexham and York City; and Doncaster Rovers at the bottom of reference 20 (under Exeter City). You can see where this is going. Referring back to historic kits shows that Doncaster Rovers wore white shorts with their hoops not black, and that this kit was worn until 1950.
This just leaves the problem of when they were made, and whether they were advertised. The ones in "Flick to Kick" have the black outline of press-out figures which means they were post-1949, but the period is well documented with catalogues. As mentioned at the top of this page, the 1948-9 price list has 1-16, but unnamed, and a additional sheet to this removes reference five, and adds reference 17. The second version of the 1949-50 catalogue (issued February 1950) mentioned that press-outs were available as refs 1, 2, 5, 15, and 18-24. Obviously, 1 and 2 were those in the box sets, ref 5 was a replacement, and 18-24 were new. It is possible that Peter Adolph ordered these kits from his printer, but the teams stopped wearing them before they arrived. As with many Subbuteo teams down the years, the out-of-date stock found its way into box sets.
That's as far as the card and celluloid team lists go. I have been told that the Swiss, English and German table football federations all manufactured flats after Subbuteo production halted in the early 1970s. However, I believe that these were only produced in black and white for players to colour themselves. In fact this type of figure is still sold as "professional" equipment if you want to give them a go.
It's time to pick another destination.
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