BY STEVE MITCHELL
In 1946, Peter Adolph applied for a patent for a table football game that would go on to become the most recognisable across the world.
We’re talking about Subbuteo of course; the game that could be found in most football fanatics’ households and which today is going through another renaissance, with fathers passing down their much loved sets to their children.
There is, however, room in the market for a new type of bespoke table top soccer that draws its inspiration from Adolph’s original creation.
The company is called FlickForKicks and is the birth child of Gareth Christie, a self-confessed Subbuteo fanatic who has drawn inspiration from his love of the game to produce his highly acclaimed bespoke tables for both young and old.
The Football Pink road-tested one of his best sellers, the five-a-side indoor arena, before catching up with the man himself to find out a little more about his love of the game and what drove him to design his own version of one of the most iconic toys of the 20th century.
TFP: The obvious first question is when did you first discover Subbuteo?
GC: Summer of ’89. Eastern Primary, Broughty Ferry, Dundee and a playground chat with pals. Peter tells us about this table football game we can all go and see. I was into football at the time, playing U-12s local league, I’d been to my first Dundee v United derby at Dens Park (I touched Kevin Gallagher’s hand; big news), and the year before, when Dave Narey ‘scored’ an O.G. against Spurs in his own testimonial, I was a ball-boy; table football? Bring it on.
So, about a dozen of us went along one evening to meet Greg Dand, a local Subbuteo player. United are on the pitch. My eyes are on stalks. As soon I saw the little plastic men, sliding around on their bases, the way they moved when you flicked them across the table, and the things you could do with a little practice I was hooked, straight away.
Greg started the Broughty Ferry Subbuteo League shortly after and I‘ve played ever since.
TFP: What’s your favourite Subbuteo set of all time?
GC: Not a set exactly, or one of the vintage classics that collectors would probably name, but I really love the officially licensed Italia’90 range.
Between the logo and the ‘Ciao’ mascot, the FIFA World Cup branding was an absolute winner, although the tournament itself was the inevitable disaster for Scotland. However, Channel 4 softened the blow with an outstanding 50 minute programme on the Official Subbuteo World Cup, in Rome.
I was still new to the game, so seeing the top players in action on TV was inspirational stuff, and even though the Italia’90 accessories weren’t actually used in that tournament, they hold fond memories for me of that time. I still have what seemed like a luxurious pitch, thick, dark green felt with the tournament logo and mascot screen-printing. I love the ball design, and the red, white and green goal-nets, which were a nod to the Italian flag, the deep goals, and the deep satisfaction of smashing one in the top corner!
TFP: What was your worst ever Subbuteo “pitch invasion”?
GC: Worst by default since there was only one and it happened a couple of years ago. I’d taken a 7-a-side table to the Christmas party at the co-working creative studio where I rented space.
I was so engrossed in the game while trying not to spill my beer, that I didn’t notice a few folk getting creative on the far side of the room. Our game came to an abrupt end when a couple of cheeky cardboard streakers on wooden sticks invaded the pitch, and Subbuteo-scale toilet rolls were strewn all over the place; Ridiculous, hilarious, brilliant.
TFP: Subbuteo played an important part in your University education, right?
GC: Absolutely. I always look for ways to combine my interests when I’m learning new skills; keeps it relevant and fun. I studied Computer Arts at University of Abertay, Dundee, and so project briefs were moulded around Subbuteo whenever possible.
My honours year project and dissertation were based around using digital tools to learn complex non-digital games. Yes, basically using tech to learn table top games. This was 2003, pre-YouTube and pre-iPhone.
I conducted an experiment with volunteers to see if I could accelerate the learning of the basic flick-to-kick technique. And it worked! This was my first foray into simplifying the learning of the game.
TFP: Why do you feel the game is still so popular with people of all ages, all over the world?
GC: Aside from the re-creation of your football dreams, which is a hook for lots of people, the game is social, intergenerational and very addictive.
That hasn’t changed. How we spend our leisure time has, though. On one hand, I think it’s amazing that this 70-year-old game survives while newer ones force us to stare at screens. But then, the technology has made the world that bit smaller, so it’s easier to assemble communities around your hobby.
Ultimately, I feel it’s about human connection. Players, collectors, painters, decal artists, replica stadium crafters and equipment manufacturers, coming together to celebrate different aspects, and evolve, what in my opinion, makes it the best game ever invented.
TFP: When was the idea for FFK first born, and did you always have ambitions to produce your own version of the game?
GC: No eureka moment as such, more like pieces coming together from being involved in the game for a long time, circumstance and frustration. My dad and I made our first branded full-size tables, for the FISTF (Federation of International Sports Table Football) World Masters event at Pittodrie Stadium in 2000.
In 2004, I graduated from university armed with loads of design and production skills, worked freelance for a while, started a digital media company and through that, worked with Dave Baxter, former World No.1 player, on developing his SuperFooty brand and game set. Subbuteo wasn’t available in the shops at the time, and so this was geared towards keeping the game alive.
Kick on to 2011, living in a village with my young sons, I realised there wasn’t much for local kids to do in the evenings. I wondered if there was still a place for Subbuteo, and if I could do what Greg had done for my friends, by teaching kids how to play.
I hired the local hall, printed up some flyers advertising an open night, and then crossed my fingers that some people would turn up. Around 30 adults and kids were there, and feedback was good. I learned so much running the club for a couple of years. Simplifying the game, using good equipment and keeping the attention would be the main challenges.
In 2012, my dad wanted to make a little table for my son to play on, and putting together all the pieces that went before, we ended up with a fun little 5-a-side version of the game, with our own modified rules. This is now our main product at FlickForKicks.
TFP: Who’s involved in the making of the tables and accessories?
GC: My dad and I along with a friend, Andy, who I met through our local Subbuteo club a few years ago, make our tables from scratch. They are all handmade from home, with locally sourced materials as far as possible and built to last.
Between us we have a good combination of hands-on traditional crafting skills, along with design skills for personalising the tables for gifts, or branding them up for business events. We’ve done some product collaborations too. Among my favourite projects were Special Edition “Minty’s Legends” sets with illustrator, aguycalledminty, and clothing brand, Rosso Bianco Nero 1878.
TFP: The interest in FlickForKicks has been huge, what age group are ordering your sets?
GC: The majority of our social media audience are in the 18 – 55 age bracket and customers are generally those that grew up in 70s – early 90s, when Subbuteo was at its peak.
We get a lot of dads buying 5-a-side arenas for their kids, (yes, definitely just for their kids), too. We’re also seeing people returning to the game in later life, sometimes after kids have moved out, making space for a full-size table, or just dusting off their old figures and investing in a nice Subbuteo table they couldn’t have before.
TFP: Your work has proved popular in other parts of Europe too, right?
GC: Yes and I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around it. From my dad’s garage to my living room for finishing, our little 5-a-side arenas have made their way into mainland Europe, and America, Asia and Australia too.
At the end of last year, we made a special meranti wooden version of the 5-a-side arena for Le Luci D’Artisti (Artists Lights) 5th annual tournament in Salerno, Italy. This is a full weekend of ‘Old Subbuteo’, played with traditional equipment and rules, along with socialising, good food and a few drinks.
It was an honour to be partner amongst the amazing artists and crafters who all submitted prizes for the event. Andy has also made some amazing high-end full-size tables, which are now in the U.S. I even had the privilege of flying over there to demonstrate how to play the game last year; an amazing experience.
TFP: What’s your long term ambition for FlickForKicks?
GC: The FlickForKicks motto is “Connect. Learn. Play.” Everything we do is geared towards fostering growth and creativity in the table football community, whether that’s through craft or play.
Ultimately we aim to bring people together in the real world, to play games we’ve helped them learn, using great equipment we’ve made, or helped them make themselves.
TFP: If you had to choose one word to sum up the impact Subbuteo has had on your life, what would it be?