Let's start this blog off with the best piece of factual news about games & hobbies that you'll ever need to know. SUBBUTEO IS THE GREATEST GAME IN THE WORLD!
Now that I have your attention it's hard, from a personal point of view and one who played as many Spectrum/Commodore 64 footy games as possible with my reclusive childhood to look past the game Peter Adolph (1916-1994) conjured up in 1946. Of course then he hadn't fancy stadia, retro railing and floodlights that never worked (even when they did it lit about 10% of the pitch so if you had around 12 floodlights you'd probably be alright , but broke) and the basics were, well very basic.
His first Subbuteo kit consisted of goals made from wire and paper nets a ball bigger than the players and cardboard playing figures in the good old time honoured red & blue figures.The bases were made from buttons and weighed down by lead washers.
In 1961 we were treated to the hand painted figures that are used now except the paint on said players was very rough. Each player practically looked like they'd need cosmetic surgery after the dollops of black hair coming down to their eyes and the skin looking as if it was melted off them.
Since you could snap a subbuteo players leg like a kit-kat, glue became an important source of relief, in fact adding a dollop of glue to the players legs made him indestructible. Many a goal was notched by a centre forward held together with a tube of UHU. Sometimes all you could see was a base, a head and a body completely covered in Bostick!
Nevertheless the game became a multi million pound business , it's zenith in the late seventies and early eighties. I remember my very first kit, bought by my dad and presented to me on December 25th 1980. It was an orgasmic moment to match any hardcore porno I've seen (and that's quite a few.) The smell of the set as I opened it. Ironing the pitch so it practically stuck to the floor (yes- floor. We were always old school, even back then) and the thrill of saving a penalty after only 34 seconds of my maiden game after my centre half's tackle waist high which completely creamed my fathers forward. If it had been a real game of football , criminal proceedings would have been issued. It ended a 0-0 draw but I was hooked.
Back then you could buy a team for €2.50. There used to be a shop in Waterford City called Motor & Sport which sold a strange combination of car parts and trophies. You could easily buy a subbuteo team and walk out with an exhaust at the same time. Worryingly they somehow got away with selling ninja stars ...work that one out. "Hi. Can I have the Stoke City team, a second hand clutch and some illegal Japanese ninja stars because the next door neighbours dog pissed on my lawn."
However things would change with the arrival of the Commodore 64, the Atari & Spectrum computers and games which opened up a whole new world to a population who wanted something more substantial then Pong (the table tennis game everyone started with) and the makers duly obliged.
Launched in 1982 Spectrum's Football Manager was the first glimpse as a football game on PC. These days the graphics look absolutely cavemen quality but not for the time.
Basically the player chooses a team and then must try to earn promotion from the fourth to the first division (although the player can then keep playing for as many seasons as they wish). The player also competes in the FA Cup. While the team and player names are real, they are not accurately represented so whichever team is selected, the player always starts in the fourth division and their team is randomly populated with players. It was fun but tough going and should that 7-1 defeat to Mansfield in November really piss you off you could always be a cheating bastard , unplug it and start the season again. I went through 13 seasons of unplugging before I finally won two back to back games and avoided being last of the 4th Division.
But there was detail. And lots of it. Each player has a skill rating and an energy rating. Players must be rested to renew their energy rating or they become injured. The players' skill and energy ratings also change at the end of the season.
In all the game sold 500,000 in 4 years which made it a considerable hit. The Commodore 64 - the biggest selling PC of the day until Apple got in on the act - went a step further and introduced Commodore International Soccer as a rival to any other game on the market.
The graphics were much better, team tactics improved and now the joystick came into it's own. It's fair to say that stick spent as much time in a teenagers hand as his tool did (and probably gave as much pleasure) Emelyn Hughes put his name to the Commodore 64 game and the ex-Wolves & Liverpool man made a nice profit from it. With every passing year the need for more realistic games on consoles became more evident. Others that entered the football arena on PC include Complete Onside Soccer (with graphics so iffy you played nearly every home game in complete fog and had at least 7 players broken up in 90 minutes), Super Match Soccer (a game you played against the computer and always got destroyed at least 8-0 - the day I lost 21-2 was the day it was buried in my back yard) but then you eventually had FIFA 1996 (their first outing) and PRO Evolution Soccer which certainly up the ante.
Though Subbuteo faded in time (thankfully it's made a resurgence in recent times) the only other game to closely match it arrived in the shape of 1993's Championship Manager.
At last - here came a game which didn't need you to be a joystick master. A football management game, were you became judge, jury and executioner.
With layouts, different skills settings, buy & sell options, contracts and control and the inevitable sack . You could even pick from a multitude of different ways your team was set up. Going to Highbury as Exeter City required a 9-1 formation but you could break out the 4-3-3 when it came to Spurs at home.
By the end of the nineties it was the most popular football simulation game of its ilk and though FIFA 2018 will outsell even the newest version of Championship Manager (which has been surpassed by Football Manager) it still remains highly popular and gloriously addictive. These days if your player contracts a sexually transmitted disease from knobbing the 18 year old physio you'll probably know about it on Championship or Football Manager.
Yes these games where worryingly addictive . We didn't shower for a week in the hope of getting Burton Albion United into the Champions League, skipped school to play out the last 4 minutes of that relegation battle against Port Vale, had a hand as stiff as a poker and unplugged the PC more times then it was healthy.
But man was it fun..