Subbuteo History (English)

Subbuteo Timeline


While most people have heard of the football game Subbuteo, few probably realise that this international game was invented in Langton Green, Tunbridge Wells.

Subbuteo was invented in 1947 by Peter Adolph from his home in Langton Green and the game continued to be manufactured in the Tunbridge Wells area until 1981.

The last 60 years have been a rollercoaster for Subbuteo. At its peak the game boasted 7 million players worldwide in 50 countries. However, sales slumped in the late 1990s and production ceased altogether in 2002. But Subbuteo refused to go away and Hasbro re-launched the game in March 2005 starting a new chapter in the story of Subbuteo.

Subbuteo was manufactured in the Tunbridge Wells area from 1947 to 1981

Subbuteo changed dramatically in the 34 years that it was produced in the Tunbridge Wells area. In 1947 Subbuteo was sold by mail order from Peter Adolph’s mother’s house in Langton Green. Eventually business expanded to include 3 factories in Langton Green as well as at Chiddingstone Causeway in Tonbridge and Durgates in Wadhurst. There were also sites in Mount Ephraim and Warwick Park in Tunbridge Wells. These were supported by an army of outworkers from the local area. Subbuteo also had factories in Wales, Gibralter and Spain.


Peter Adolph creates his table football game

Although similar in appearance to ‚New Footy‘ Peter’s plastic bases revolutionised table football.

The early sets consisted of printed cardboard figures, goal frames with a card net and a piece of chalk with instructions for drawing a pitch on an old army blanket.


An icon is born

Peter Adolph applied to register his game as ‚The Hobby‘ after his favourite bird of prey – the Hobby Hawk.  The application was rejected so Peter used the Latin name – Falco Subbuteo.  The game was registered as Subbuteo and an icon was born.


Press out cardboard figures introduced

Table Soccer Players Association formed

Players were encouraged to form leagues and affiliate them with Adolph’s Table Soccer Players Association – TPSA.

Subbuteo table Cricket introduced

Cricket became the second most successful game produced by the company.


Celluloid figures introduced

Although more expensive to buy, the new flat plastic figures promised to be ’scientifically designed to be 100% self balancing, and almost unbreakable‘.

Business expands

Two members join the now full time Peter Adolph.

Subbuteo Table Rugby introduced

Not invented by Peter Adolph but sold under the Subbuteo name.


Subbuteo Speedway introduced

This was reputed to be Peter Adolph’s favourite game, although he did not invent it. A motor-racing version was available from 1956-1959.


Journey into Space

Inspired by the popularity of space travel and science fiction, a plastic spacecraft was propelled from a launch ramp towards a balloon planet.


Subbuteo make their own bases

In 1956 Subbuteo began moulding their own bases using tools made by the Medway Tool Company in Paddock Wood.


Peter Adolph buys the Medway Tool Company

Peter Adolph bought the Medway Tool Company and could now manufacture his own bases.


Little plastic men

Moulded three dimensional plastic figures were introduced in 1961. George Erik modelled the ’00‘ scale figures which were sold as the ‚Continental Range‘. The figures are painted and assembled by outworkers in Langton Green and Tunbridge Wells.


Peter Adolph meets the Fab Four

An opportune meeting in New York with the manager of the Beatles, Brian Epstein results in Subbuteo producting models of the Beatles.


England wins the World Cup

Subbuteo produced teams representing the sixteen nations competing and advertised on the television for the first time.


English Table Soccer Association formed

The English Table Soccer Association was independent from Subbuteo. It has its own rules and allowed members to customise their players.


Waddingtons buy Subbuteo Games Ltd



Peter Adolph resigns

After a troubled few years Peter resigned on 30 September 1970, ending 23 years association with the game.

First International Subbuteo Tournament

On 22 and 23 August 1970 The Savoy Hotel hosted the first international Subbuteo Tournament. Teams from thirteen different countries competed. Germany won and the trophy was presented by Gordon Banks.


Game of the Year Award

Subbuteo table soccer won the Game of the Year Award at the British International Toy Fair in Brighton in 1971.

Farewell flat figures

Throughout the evolution of the game, press-out cradboard and celluloid figures had still been available to buy. They finally disappeared from production for the 1971-2 and 1973-4 catalogues.


Munich World Cup  – 9-11 June 1974

Both the FIFA and the Subbuteo World Cups took place in Munich and Subbuteo launched a special Munich World Cup Edition.

By 1974 there were 1.5 million Subbuteo players worldwide.

The World Cup was played in West Germany in conjunction with the World Cup.

There were 19 nations, and for Italy was the first participation.
The Dutchman Dick Rietveld won the final against the english champion Mike Dent with the result 2-1.

Third place for the Italian Stefano Beverini that won the final for the third and fourth place against the Belgian Christian Delahaut 5-1.

Bruno Siciliano di Napoli, vice champion Italy was ranked fifth, after being granted the luxury of stopping the draw Dick Rietveld.


Mechanical painting introduced

Subbuteo figures had been hand painted by outworkers since the early 1960s. Figures could now be printed with the team colours. To do this the plastic figures had to be a more simple shape that became known as ‚zombies‘.


Subbuteo leaves Tunbridge Wells

Now that production was no longer reliant on outworkers, there was no reason to keep Subbuteo in the Tunbridge Wells area. In 1981 Waddingtons moved production to Washington, Tyne and Wear and after 6 months to Leeds.


Number of players soars

By 1982, 7 million people worldwide were playing Subbuteo in 50 different countries.


Playing for real

2 years after the band ‚Half man Half Biscuit‘ released their Subbuteo song ‚All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away kit‘ the BBC produced a 6-part drama about a fictitious Subbuteo team – Real Falkirk.


Subbuteo wins Toy of the Year Award

As popular as ever, Subbuteo won the Toy of the Year award in 1989.


Channel 4 Film the World Cup

Channel 4 covered the Subbuteo World Cup in Rome.


Black Subbuteo Figures

By 1994 every team produced automatically had 3 black players to at last reflect changes in mainstreram football.

Hasbro buy Waddingtons

In 1994 the American Games manufacturer Hasbro bought Waddingtons Ltd. Subbuteo was just one of a family of games that included Monopoly and Cluedo.


First Hasbro Set

The first new set from Hasbro is released for the World Cup with new style throw-in and corner-kick figures.


The end of Subbuteo?

After several years of declining sales, Hasbro announced that they would no longer be producing Subbuteo. Due to an outcry from the public Subbuteo was saved, but was only sold in Toys R Us and only 10 teams were available.


Italian Subbuteo

In 2002 the licence to produce Subbuteo was given to the Perodi family in Italy. Perodi, who had been producing their own version of table football, held the licence until December 2003.


Subbuteo re-born

Hasbro re-launched Subbuteo table football in March 2005. Branded as ‚a 21st century version for a new generation‘, the game has a stadium pitch. The new players are printed flat plastic, strangely reminiscent of the very first players, now 60 years old.

Subbuteo was manufactured in the Tunbridge Wells area from 1947 to 1981

Subbuteo changed dramatically in the 34 years that it was produced in the Tunbridge Wells area. In 1947 Subbuteo was sold by mail order from Peter Adolph’s mother’s house in Langton Green. Eventually business expanded to include 3 factories in Langton Green as well as at Chiddingstone Causeway in Tonbridge and Durgates in Wadhurst. There were also sites in Mount Ephraim and Warwick Park in Tunbridge Wells. These were supported by an army of outworkers from the local area. Subbuteo also had factories in Wales, Gibralter and Spain.

An inventor’s story

Peter Adolph invented and manufactured Subbuteo in Tunbridge Wells. His Langton Green based business became an international phenomenon.

From an early age Peter Adolph had two great passions – ornithology and football. After serving in the airforce in World War II, Peter returned home to live with his mother in Langton Green. He worked for the Pensions Office and sold birds eggs for extra money. Inspired by a button from Woolworths, Peter thought that he could improve on the table football games popular at the time. He made a base using the button, weighted down with a washer. The result was to revolutionise table football as it allowed players to spin and curve – just like a real footballer.

By 1948 Peter’s table football game had been patented as ‚Subbuteo‘, the Latin name for his favourite bird, the Hobby Hawk. Subbuteo was sold by mail order through adverts in Boys Own Magazine and at School Boy Exhibitions. By 1950 Peter was able to give up his full time job to concentrate on Subbuteo.

Over the next fifteen years the popularity of Subbuteo grew beyond all expectation. It reached a peak when England hosted the World cup in 1966. By 1968 Peter could no longer keep up with demand. To provide investment for the company, Peter sold Subbuteo to Waddingtons but stayed on as Managing Director.

Peter, who had had complete control of the company in the past, found it difficult to adjust to being a company man. In 1970 he resigned from Subbuteo. He said that it was like loosing an arm.

Peter and his son Mark continued to design table sports games. First Aquila, another football game, then a baseball game, Atlantice. Neither went into production.

Peter Adolph died in 1994. He lived in the Tunbridge Wells area much of his life and was well known for his love of sports cars and ornithology. And as for football – he was a Queen’s Park Rangers fan all his life.

It’s a Sports Game!

Peter Adolph’s game was very similar in appearance to another football game ‚New Footy‘, invented in 1929.

Inspired by a button from Woolworth’s, Peter’s game revolutionised table football. The button weighted down with a washer allowed the player to spin and curve like a real footballer.

The first games consisted of a footballer printed onto card or later celluloid. Metal goal frames came with cardboard nets. Instead of a pitch, instructions were supplied to draw a pitch onto an old army blanket.

The game was sold by mail order from adverts in the Boys Own Paper or at the Schoolboys Exhibition, with the slogan ‚It’s a Sports Game!‘

In every country that loves football, Subbuteo has found a home, making it a truly international phenomenon.

Subbuteo has been sold in over 50 countries and the catalogues and rules translated into 16 different languages.

Subbuteo has also gained international recognition as a sport. The first International Subbuteo Tournament was held in 1970, closely followed in 1974 by the first World Cup in Munich.

Today, the game is as popular as ever. In the UK the game is governed by E.S.T.F.A. – England Sports Table Football Association. The intenational governing body is F.I.S.T.F. – The Federation for International Sports Table Football.

Making Subbuteo

A Subbuteo player is made of several parts and many people are involved in the production.

The Base

From 1956 Subbuteo manufactured their own bases. The plastic was weighted down with a washer. Part of the washer was clipped off to allow the base to spin.

Outworkers were employed to glue the washer to the base and then the player to the base. They glued about four thousand a fortnight.

Peter Adolph constantly experimented with new bases.

The Player

From 1961, Subbuteo footballers were little plastic men.

A model was sculpted in metal by George Erik, David Pomeroy or Charles Stadden, the renowned military model maker.

From this a mould was made and the figures were sent to a factory to be injection moulded in plastic.

The figures were passed to outworkers to paint. An outworker painted one thousand figures a week before they were glued to the base and packed into boxes ready to be sold.

Thanks for the right to post the text from the Tunbridgewellsmuseum

Subbuteo is a trademark of Hasbro.

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