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Flickin' Against the Pricks
by Holden Caulfield
Now I've got a cousin called Kevin. He's sure to go to heaven. Always spotless clean and neat, as smooth as you'll get 'em. Actually, I haven't, and even if I had, there's no way he'd have beaten me at subbuteo, 'cos I was okay at it back in the day (whatever that means).
That fat lad who did the piece on table football per se in the last issue made passing reference to the world's greatest game (nb : subbuteo was the manufacturer; the game itself is, in fact, called Table Football. Just like 'The' Buzzcocks, don't exist), but failed to do it justice in his throwaway article. I aim to redress the balance, and demonstrate, in the process, how Table Football knocks Waddingtons, Casdon Soccer and Striker into a cocked hat (whatever that means).
My own Table Football (let's call it subbuteo, for a more economical use of space) career began in the less than auspicious environs of Kensington, Liverpool 6, in the front-room of a lad who went onto become the drummer in a jangly Liverpool 80's pop band. I used to go around there on a Saturday night, where we'd read his sister's 'Jackie' and 'My Guy', look at the lingerie section of his ma's catalogue, and play subbuteo. The pitch was spread out on the floor, and it used to rag your knees - a mere trifle at 15. There were some epic encounters, and many was the night I would storm off home, having fallen victim to a hotly-disputed penalty, or accusing him of the worst crime in subbuteo, 'fudging' (sliding the player along, with the side of your finger, rather than flicking to kick).
Eventually, though, he got a girlfriend, and Saturdays, for me, became watching the Generation Game and Match of the Day, and, figuratively speaking, I 'hung up my boots'. No more subbuteo. The cold turkey was bad. Whilst, ironically, most of our estate was suffering from coming off the Brown, I was wailing away in my bed, just dreaming of the green baize (whatever that is), and sliding those erect little figures through a rather pedestrian plastic offside trap. Finally, salvation came, in the form of an advert in, bizarrely, an Everton match programme. 'DO YOU WANT TO PLAY SUBBUTEO'? Do I?! I'll say. It gave an address in Huddersfield (yes, I know), and I dashed off a letter post-haste (whatever that means). It was something of a con, actually, as it asked you to send a postal order for 25p, and then sent you a list of other kids in Liverpool who may be interested in forming a league. Anyway (are you readers as bored of this as I am?), to cut a long story short (I lost my miiiiiiinnnnnndddddd), the four of us who made contact ended up arranging a mini tournament, and I was drawn away to 'Derek' (his real name) in the first semi-final. He gave me directions to his ken, which was a big detached place in Woolton. You could tell that he had no mates, just by looking at the spotty, speccy, bulbous freak (the reason for my antipathy - whatever that means - will become evident), but he had a boss set up. His pitch was affixed to plywood, and placed on a giant table. He had the whole rig, stands, floodies, and 100's of synthetic supporters that he'd painstakingly (whatever that means) set up. Looked quite impressive, but, immediately after kick off, he shot narrowly wide, and deliberately made his 'supporters' do a kop-style sway, and they ended up all over the friggin' place. In the event, he was crap, and I cruised into the final with a comfortable 4-0 win. Derek blamed his asthma.
I made to go home, but the pitiful no-mates asked me to come and see his room. Unsuspectingly, I went up, and, as expected, found a veritable (whatever that means) Aladdin's Cave of every great toy you could think of (Meccano, Sure-Shot Hockey, Mouse Trap, the lot). He opened a Guinness Book of Records (1977), which had been cunningly hollowed out, and contained a box of 10 Embassy Regal. 'Cigarette'?, he said, and I resisted the urge to say, 'I know', as Airplane wouldn't be released for another three years. We lit up, once Derek had satisfied himself that his ma and da were safely downstairs. Now, if he hadn't then tried to feel my knob, things might have been okay - hell, I may even have kept in touch, it wasn't as if I was Mr Popular. But, as you've guessed, Derek's latent homosexual juvenile tendencies were his undoing, and I had to knock him out (I'm not proud) before leggin' it to the bus stop. Still, I was through to the final, and eagerly awaited notification of who my opponent would be.
A day or two later, I got a short letter inviting me to 'pley (sic) at me (sic) house (well done!) in ther (sic) finel (sic)', from a lad called 'Billy' (his real name) in Norris Green. Even 30 years ago, Nogsy wasn't the best place to visit (I regularly got ducked, by some bigger boys, in the local swimming baths), so it was with some trepidation (whatever that is) that I boarded the 14C on the day of the final. My stomach was in knots by the time I got to the stop, but I eventually found his house near Scargreen Avenue. It reminded me of players who go away, in Europe, and say that they just want to nick the win and get out of there. I was feeling pretty queasy, and blamed it all on the shites at Broadway (my coat? Go on then). Billy had about 10 mates around; assorted Maccas, Yozzers, Dazzers, etc, and they gave me bad stares as I unpacked my team (Honved, I think). One of them clocked that my midfield general had been fixed with bostik, and this caused no little merriment amongst the sea of pinched faces. Billy's pitch was on the floor, and was full of ciggie burns. The ball was non-regulation size, and he fudged like a bastard. Nevertheless, I stuck to my 'total football' principles, and we were deadlocked at 0-0 at full-time. Deep into extra-time, I took up a great position, and drove the ball at his Munich '74 net - it's there! But no, Billy tipped the net over, just as the ball was about to cross the line, and the ball bounced back off the prostrate cross-bar. 'Goal', I hollered (whatever that means). 'No Chance lad', replied Billy. I turned to Macca. Or Yozzer. 'Goal'? Macca, or Yozzer, deliberated before giving a proportionate and reasoned argument. 'Was it fuck', he said. I was broken. With the last flick of the match, Billy slid a fudged player from right outside the 'shooting zone' - catching part of the ball with his hand - and the player, Billy's hand, and the ball, ended up in the net. Bedlam. Billy and co raced off around the kitchen on some ghastly 'open-top tour' from hell. Barely stopping myself from weeping out of sheer frustration, I collected Honved, and we slunk out. Runner-up, in the 1977 'All-Liverpool' (cough) subbuteo tournament. I was robbed.
And that was - almost - the end of my subbuteo career. Many years later, I got a casual job in the post-room of some non-descript Civil Service department. On the first day, I was mildly bemused to see Mr Sheen being produced, at lunch-time, along with boxes of subbuteo teams. A couple of the lads started spraying the bases of the players, with the polish, whilst the other lads set up a subbuteo astroturf (hell!), next to the photocopier. You've guessed it, they had a subbuteo league, and Mr Sheen made the players zip across the pristine 'turf'. Over the short time I was there, I had a few games, but the others were far to good for me. In the end, I jacked it in after being caught offside, once too often, by a mild-mannered Higher Executive Officer from Lydiate. This modern subbuteo is shite. Give me the days when there were more little plastic characters in the game; when you ran the risk of some gay activity at an away match; and when the tension in Billy's Norris Green living room was really too much to bear.
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