How the MLS could save Subbuteo’s ghost teams

Subbuteo has not always kept the numbering system of its 800-plus teams tidy.

The reference numbers were used for the first sets of Subbuteo to denote kit colours and it started with a handful of teams.

Blue and white teams were reference number 01, with the team used for a number of teams including Everton, Leicester City and more.

As more colours were introduced new numbers were added. Occasionally a reference number was updated with new colours or kits, meaning a reference may have several different teams and styles over the years.

By the time lightweight Subbuteo had rolled around kit colours were more specific and usually covered a couple of teams at most.

But hidden away in the archives from the mid-1980s is an unusual situation – there are 12 reference numbers that have never been used for a Subbuteo team.

In 1984 Subbuteo was due to launch teams from the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) in the US. Indoor soccer was popular at the time with crowds reaching 10,000 for the winter sport. Played on a pitch with sideboards that could be used during the game for rebounds, it was an alternative to the sport when snow and ice meant outdoor football was impossible.

Teams from the US were named with typically superlative titles, from the Buffalo Stallions to the Phoenix Inferno, and the kit colours were usually bright and bold with plenty of stripes and patterns rarely seen in the European game.

What happened at Subbuteo nobody really knows, but the teams themselves simply did not happen.

At least one prototype was produced in the classic Subbuteo boxes of the early 1990s, but it seems at least one of the teams, the Denver Avalanche, had already folded by the time the sets were due to be released.

Bizarelly, 1983 Champions San Diego Sockers, who went on to win eight of the 14 titles before the original MISL folded, were not one of the 12 sets Subbuteo were set to make. These were:

581. New York Arrows
582. New Jersey Rockets
583. Philadelphia Fever
584. Buffalo Stallions
585. Wichita Wings
586. Kansas City Comets
587. Phoenix Inferno
588. Memphis Americans
589. Cleveland Force
560. Pittsburgh Spirit
561. Denver Avalanche
562. Baltimore Blast

There may have been a 13th team, St Louis Steamers, as number 580 to complete a 13-team lineup.

The ghost teams are a nice quirk of the Subbuteo range. Empty numbers nestled in the brand’s glory days that were never filled.

Until now.

Why doesn’t Subbuteo reboot the numbers and launch a selection of the current MLS teams? Subbuteo is growing rapidly in America and New York City even use a Subbuteo set to discuss tactics before matches.

The kits of the MLS are spectacular, from the purple of Orlando City to the striking green of Seattle Sounders. A one-off range to celebrate the game in the US would be a big seller for collectors and should entice some new fans to Subbuteo.

There are 13 numbers waiting to be filled in the Subbuteo back catalogue. Instead of mourning the weird and wacky Major Indoor Soccer League, why not celebrate the USA’s domestic league success by finally giving them the Subbuteo range they deserve?

As always the research for this article started with Peter Upton’s incredible Subbuteo site.

Stephen Hurrell
Stephen Hurrell
Stephen is the founder and editor of The Hobby Online and The Hobby by Subbuteo.Online print magazine. He is a giant nerd and specialises in Subbuteo, retro football kits and consumer stories. A journalist and editor of 15 years, he has written about football for some of the UK's biggest publications.

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