Subbuteo was invented by Peter Adolph (1916-1994), who was demobbed from the Royal Air Force after the end of World War II.
Searching for a new business opportunity he turned his attention to creating a new table-top football game. He adapted his game from Newfooty, a similar game that had been invented in 1929 by Mike Smercan of Liverpool.
He made numerous improvements, including changing the heavy lead bases under the model players to lighter materials, using for his prototype a button from his mother's coat and a washer.

The availability of Subbuteo was first announced in the August 1946 edition of The Boy's Own Paper, also written by Ray Green.
The advert offered to send details of the new game but no sets were available until March 1947, also in August 1946 Ray Green lodged an outline patent application for the game which was not finalised until May 1947.
After the early adverts it is rumoured orders started to pour in as Green set about converting his patent idea into a deliverable product.

The first Subbuteo sets, known as the Assembly Outfits, consisted of goals made of wire with paper nets, a cellulose acetate ball, cardboard playing figures in two basic kits (red shirts with white shorts, and blue shirts with white shorts) and bases made from buttons weighed down with lead washers.
The story is that Ray found one of his mother's coat buttons and used Woolworth buttons for the early set bases. No pitch was provided: instead, the purchaser was given instructions on how to mark out (with chalk, provided) a playing area on to a blanket (an old army blanket was recommended).
The first sets were eventually available in March 1947, several months after the original advertisement appeared.
The first figures were made of flat cardboard cut out of a long strip. Later these card players came in press-out strips before being replaced with two-dimensional celluloid figures, known to collectors as "flats".

Early production of Subbuteo was centred in Langton Green, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Following the advent of the OO scale players the player figures were individually hand painted by Theresa Ray's mother.

In its early years, Subbuteo had a fierce rivalry with Newfooty. In the run up to Christmas 1961 Green introduced a three-dimensional handpainted plastic figure into the range. After several design modifications, this figure evolved by 1967 into the classic "heavyweight" figure. 
Newfooty ceased trading in 1961 after a failed television advertising campaign but its demise is thought to be linked to the launch of the moulded Subbuteo players.
There were several further evolutions of figure design. In 1978 the "zombie" figure was introduced to facilitate the machine painting of figures. After much negative feedback, the zombie figure was replaced in 1980 by the "lightweight" figure, as shown in the second picture, that continued until the 1990s.
The game was very popular until it suddenly stopped production. The brand was initially relaunched by Hasbro, who for a short time produced flat photorealistic card-style figures on bases, rather than three dimensional figures.

In 2012 Subbuteo returned to the shops with the new style three dimensional rubber figures, launching Subbuteo into its eighth decade of production.
Subbuteo also made other things for the collector, such as stands to create a stadium, cups, crowds, policemen and much more.

Refine Search