Players flick to kick in a small sporting world

Great game: Simon Jackson and Mat Atkin are organising a Subbeteo tournament.   Picture Sarah Washbourn
Great game: Simon Jackson and Mat Atkin are organising a Subbeteo tournament. Picture Sarah Washbourn
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IT was the flicking fantastic game beloved of sports mad lads growing up in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Subbuteo may have been more expensive than your average KerPlunk set, harder to play than a computer game, and every bit as vulnerable to breakage as you’d expect from a hobby featuring centimetre-high plastic figurines.

But for generations of boys beating your mate on that cotton sheet was the finest thing this side of scoring the winning goal at Wembley.

Simon Jackson and Mat Atkins were two of those youngsters. The only difference between them and thousands of others?

At the age of 43, after playing virtually non stop for 30 years, the pair have just set up Sheffield Table Football Club - the city’s first ever officially registered organisation and only the 20th of its kind in the country.

“I have never once got bored of playing,” says chairman Mat, an architectural technician and father of two. “It’s such a realistic take on football, and a great way of socialising and having a bit of competition with friends.

“I don’t think it’s just a game for children at all. On the continent you get guys playing at quite a serious level and, while this club is about having fun, it’s also about trying to meet new players and create some world class players here in Sheffield.”

That club, then, has nine founding members and will run the inaugural Steel City Championships league - a division of eight players competing home and away once a month until May.

“But if it goes well and we get more players registering we definitely want to expand next season,” says team manager Simon, a quantity surveyor of Fraser Drive, Woodseats. “Ideally we’d like three divisions of eight and, then, because we’re registered with the English Subbuteo Table Football Association the best teams would then be put forward to national competitions.”

Serious stuff, it seems. And a far cry from the days when mum would stop play by accidentally standing on the pitch and reducing Maradona to a crushed mess of plastic.

Both Simon and Mat, of Upper Valley Road, Meersbrook, have specially dedicated tables set up in their homes; along with tubs of polish to keep the players skidding smoothly and screwed-on nets to stop any knocking of the goals.

And, while every boy wanted a complete Subbuteo stadium - available accessories included grandstands, TV cameramen, subs benches and even a replica of the Queen handing over the FA Cup - here it’s just a pitch and fence.

“All that stuff looked good,” says Simon. “But when you’re playing it tends to get in the way so we keep it to a minimum.”

The one-time King Edward VII School pupils decided to found the club and league after speaking for the first time in 10 years in January.

While Simon had let his flicking skills go a little, Mat had continued playing with friends, his brother and even his two lads.

“I played it as a kid, I played it when I went to uni and I’ve played it ever since...” he thinks for a second. “I enjoy it.” And why not?

A Sheffield Subbuteo Open will now be held to mark the club’s formation. League players from across the country and local enthusiasts are invited to take part in a knock out trophy on September 18. Venue to be confirmed.

Interested in joining the club? Email

Net gains

Subbuteo was founded by Peter Adolph in 1946. It is named after a bird of prey Falco Subbuteo because Adolph was an ornithologist.

The first Subbuteo sets did not come with a pitch - but did include a piece of chalk to mark a surface on to an army blanket.

It is a worldwide sport with more than 30 countries affiliated to the Federation of International Subbuteo Table Football.

Sheffield United first appeared as team number 9. The colours were also Southampton, Sunderland, Brentford, Lincoln and Exeter.

Sheffield Wednesday were team number 22. No other team shared this.