I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mark Adolph about a book he recently wrote about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart — and many football fans around the world… Subbuteo.
For those who don’t know, Subbuteo was THE game growing up. Played on a green cloth mat, each of the two players had eleven small minature figures that they could flick around the pitch and try to score a goal as in the regular game of football. Of course, there were rules that specific to Subbuteo, but the game was simple to learn and — before the creation of football computer or video games — very, very addictive.
Regarding the history of Subbuteo, most casual players are unaware of the exciting life that inventor Peter Adolph lived and how his idea blossomed into a huge industry — so much so that Subbuteo became one of the largest employers in the Tunbridge Wells, Kent area.
One of the reasons why Adolph wrote the book was because he was receiving so many calls from people asking him for information about his father’s company. But he wrote the book from his own personal perspective, so it doesn’t go into the years and detail what teams were available for purchase. But instead offers a rare glimpse inside the Adolph family household and the Subbuteo factory near Tunbridge Wells.
The book describes the old house where the Subbuteo factory was, and how the town’s people would get paid to handpaint the figures. During a recent interview with Adolph, he described how people were paid per 1,000 figures that they handpainted and how figures with stripes (such as Newcastle United and Sunderland) were more complicated to paint (and, as a result, the painters would get paid more for those figures).
Adolph estimates that 500 million figures (i.e. men) were created during the history of Subbuteo.In the book, Adolph writes about his memories of his father and gives a very honest and uncensored account. There were subject matters that weren’t very pleasant for Adolph to write about his father, but although the story wasn’t all roses in the Adolph household, the process of writing the book was very therapeudic for Mark.
Peter Adolph, the man, loved fast cars and liked American cars especially, said his son. The Subbuteo business definitely funded his father’s passion. When asked what Peter Adolph would have done if he hadn’t invented Subbuteo, his son mentioned how his father was always a good singer and played and recorded in a professional dance band in London during the 1940’s.Adolph shared how he and his father often went to matches together. One of his most memorable experiences was going with his father to watch the Queens Park Rangers (QPR) side from the 1975-76 season. With season tickets in hand at Loftus Road, Adolph recounted his excitement at watching players such as Stan Bowles and Gerry Francis.
I asked Mark what his most prized Subbuteo possession is and whether he still plays the game. Yes, he does still play the game his father invented, which isn’t a surprise. But what is a surprise is that in the mid-60’s Subbuteo produced a set of Beatles characters that were approximately two inches high. It’s estimated that his prized possession is worth in the range of $25,000-$35,000. Adolph also spoke fondly about some of his other prized possessions such as a Subbuteo pitch that was custom-made for him from the mid-60’s to late-70s. He also talked about how he used to play the game against his father.
Adolph’s hope is that sometime in the future a permanent museum devoted to Subbuteo be built in Tunbridge Wells. For now, though, we can dust off those Subbuteo boxes and relive our fond memories, and read Mark’s book to gain a better understanding of the man who created one of the greatest soccer games ever.
“Growing Up With Subbuteo: My Dad Invented The World’s Greatest Game” is available at all fine book retailers including Amazon.