"He flicked to kick, but I didn't know" warbled a young Fergal Sharkey circa 1981 as Subbuteo entered it's final throws of toyshop domination.  While the 'suits' decide to move on, an Italian firm makes a stand. 

The game of Subbuteo, created by back in 1947 by Peter Adolphs, modelling a previous "table football" game called New Footy from the 1930's.  Adolphs lived in a typical English village in Kent, complete with cricket green, thatched pub and a Bobby on a bicycle.  Could there be anything more English than that?

Well fast forward sixty years and the growth in its popularity is not amongst the youngsters of our green and pleasant lands.  Nintendo's, iPods and ASBO's are now the recreational weapons of choice for our youths.  However, in one part of Europe the game continues to be a big past time.  In fact so much that production of table football still continues apace here.

The country?  Italy.  The name?  Zëugo.  Waddingtons, who produced the original Subbuteo were bought by Hasbro back in the nineties and production of the game was virtually stopped within ten years.  However, demand for the game was still strong in Italy, where the game continued to be produced by Edilio Parodi.  Parodi saw the strength in the game and when Hasbro decided to stop distributing the game in 2003 he started on his plans for his own version of the game, Zëugo Parodi.

Zëugo had already been stamping their mark on Subbuteo since they had the production and distribution licence.  They made some changes to the traditional game.  The goals (modelled on the 1970 World Cup goals if you are asking) came with thicker posts; the pitch was significantly bigger, although the playing area itself stayed the same size and the figures were hand painted.  But inspired by the number of "Communale" stadiums in Italy they stamped their mark on the accessory market with the launch of the athletics track surround.  So you could have that authentic Stadio San Paolo/Olimpico/Renato Dall'Ara feel by actually being some distance from the pitch when you played.  In 2004 the Zeugo range of teams expanded to cover most Italian clubs.  This in turn fuelled the demand for the game within Italy.

To the untrained eye there was little difference between the traditional Subbuteo teams and the new Zëugo range.  But there was.  For one thing all of the Zëugo range came with an additional player - incredibly useful for those accidental "Subbuteo knee" injuries.  But the main difference came in the base.  The Italian version used a lighter, rounder base that meant that players didn't topple over when flicked.  After all, that wasn't stylish and if there is one thing that defines Italians it is style.

To underline how much the Italians still rate the game, they have their own association that governs the game.  The Federazione Italiano Sport Calcio Tavolo, or FISCT for short set the rules for all Italian based activities relating to table football.  And there is quite a lot going on.  Leagues are defined Serie A, B and C with regular promotion and relegation plus the Coppa Italia, played once a year.  In 2010 this was held over a weekend in Chianciano Terme with over 200 competitors from the 50 "clubs" around the country.  In July 2011 FISCT are also hosting the World Championships or Campionati Mondiali Di Calcio Tavolo to give it its proper name in Palermo, Sicily where around 50 of the world's top players will compete for the honour to be named world champion and take the title off a young Belgium girl who still holds the title.

So table football is far from dead.  In the world where technological advances mean that we have more processing power in our mobile phones that the Apollo 11 team had when they (allegedly) landed on the Moon in 1969 it is hard to believe that such a manual game that has changed so little in over fifty years is still as popular as ever.  In fact this is one of the few areas that has benefited from the constant trend in clubs changing their shirts.  They more they change design, sponsor or colour, then you are sure that a replica Zëugo team will soon follow.

Want more proof about its position in the past times of thousands of men, women, boys and girls in the world today?  Well have a look at the trailer of a forthcoming film below.  The subject?  Table football and the fight between Subbuteo and Parodi's Zëugo of course.

Director Pierr Nosari sums up the reason why he made the film:-

In the last few years, Television rights have dictated the time and way in which we watch fruition of soccer games.  And probably this is just the tip of the iceberg made by those who remember there was a time in which professional soccer playing was just the luckiest version of the game played by all the kids. 

And among all recreational ways of playing soccer, a small yet big past time was surely Subbuteo. Sure, videogames such as the Playstation changed that to an extent, but the human aspect of soccer has slowly been left behind.

And it is important to talk about this underground world, in order to enlighten a different point of view on the development of soccer and, as a consequence, on the society of the last years.”

With millions of players still out there, and competitive leagues played in more than 30 countries it is hard to see Calcio Tavolo ever dying.  Viva Subbuteo, Viva Zëugo.

You can read more from Stuart at The Ball Is Round and follow him on Twitter here.

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AuthorStuart Fuller