When I was asked to review a book about “Subbuteo,” I thought I had been the victim of some sort of autocorrect. From there, my mind searched for memories of perhaps some Brazilian or Argentine defensive midfielder from the sixties or seventies. Failing to find anything, I simply looked it up. Subbuteo is a table top soccer (or rugby or cricket or hockey) board game.
As an American, I am familiar with foosball, of course, but that was the only table top soccer game that I had ever seen or heard of. Once I had discovered what Subbuteo was, I was reminded of similar games in the 1980s here in the US that simulated the NFL.
In The Box by Tom Groves is a photobook about Subbuteo players who compete at the international level. Players from Italy, Spain and England, and players from all over Europe. Players who aren’t content to simply have a go at their friends in their basements or rec rooms, these are players who travel internationally to compete in professional tournaments.
The book began as a Kickstarter project to reveal “the present-day culture and idiosyncrasies of the largely unseen sporting world of Subbuteo.” The Kickstarter project reached its funding goal, and the photobook has now been published and is available to Subbuteo connoisseurs.
Aside from a foreward by Kaspar Bennett, there is not a lot of text at all. It is intended more as a coffee table book for gazing at photographs and marveling at the intensity shown by grown men and women playing the table soccer game that is popular around the world. The Bennett foreward is wonderfully written and humorously takes the book’s author Mr. Groves to task for being “not a top Subbuteo player….only the third best player on his street when we were kids.” Bennett provides the only background as to the game itself and it would have been a great service to the novice Subbuteo player if he had expanded his writing by at least a few pages.
The photography is the centerpiece to In The Box. And while it wonderfully conveys the passion involved in top level Subbuteo tournaments, without a bit of text to at least provide background, it can only go so far. One of my personal gripes is that most of the pictures lack even a caption to explain who the players are or what tournament they are competing in.
If you’re looking for a written introduction to the game and its creation, history, and current resurgence in popularity, In The Box is not the book for you. However, if you know a bit about Subbuteo already, and especially if it’s a game you know and love, then In The Box is a great collection of photo documentation of players losing themselves in the moment and showing a tremendous amount of passion for their game.