Late July 2022 saw the UK’s biggest celebration of all things Subbuteo and the two-day event was a major hit.
SubbuteoFest, organised by Haverhill Subbuteo Club with the support of the English Subbuteo Association, promised to be the biggest table football event of its kind in the UK across Saturday 30 and Sunday 31 July.
First of all, let’s get the controversy out of the way. There were a minority of complaints about the event and the relatively small amount of seller stalls compared to the excellent Farthinghoe Collector’s Fair delivered by Subbuteo Passion earlier in the year. There were around 10 sellers on the first day of the festival, meaning some people who wanted more disappointed.
It is true the number of sellers was less than that of other fairs – although organisers worked hard to engage the selling community before the event – but there was a little bit of everything for everybody at SubbuteoFest and I still managed to spend some money in bagging some teams, balls and an event poster.
It was in the other aspects that SubbuteoFest excelled. The organisation of the FISTF tournament on day one – won by Justin Finch after a tense final with The Glide Slide Chip & Dip Club clubmate Christian Short – was superb. Despite hot conditions the tournament was well attended and hotly contested, although the highlight for me was the almost universal good nature and support given from the more experienced players with newcomers throughout the day.
Ruby Matthews, the 13-year-old Subbuteo prodigy, took home the plate with a victory over Dad and clubmate Cayne in the Plate Final.
It was not without some drama, with one competitor stung by a wasp on his flicking finger, a very controversial “open goal” in the knockout rounds causing plenty of debate and a number of shoot outs after tied games.
The second day saw even more superb Subbuteo action with Subbuteo’s 75th anniversary tournament, won by Gareth Christie in a final against Simon Goodman. The tournament was notable for the fact it was endorsed by Subbuteo itself for the first time for nearly 30 years. The beautiful trophies supplied by Subbuteo and featuring the brand’s 75th anniversary logo, were in high demand.
Special Subbuteo-made silver balls and SubbuteoFest pitches were other small highlights of the day that showed the attention to detail that had gone into the event.
With Subbuteo products needed to compete in the tournament it is definitely worth a shout out to the maverick Stephen Moreton, who competed with a team of linesmen in the tournament.
The organisation of the tournaments was genuinely world class, while catering including food and a licensed truck selling alcohol for those who were taking the tournaments in a more casual manner.
There were plenty of tables free for a flickaround and hundreds of people who attended both days to play, buy, sell and talk all things Subbuteo. And it is the latter part that really made SubbuteoFest special. As a complete beginner to the modern game I found no shortage of willing players to talk me through the basics, from bases to playing techniques. The sense of community was palpable and while my main criticism of the ESA has always been inclusion I began to feel a bit silly given how warm, welcoming and inclusive the entire two days were.
Where else in the world can you be asked for a game of Subbuteo, handed a pristine Everton 1986 team and then get coached with helpful tips as you get soundly beaten by an Aberdeen side (I refuse to call them Liverpool)? Despite the 2-0 loss (no shots on target) the good nature casual game was in stark contrast to the serious play taking place yards away.
Throw in a fantastic night time event hosted by Stewart Grant, aka Subbuteo Collector, which featured guests, a crossbar challenge and a bizarre free-for-all two-a-side game once again won by Justin Finch (I think, the rules seemed to go out of the window).
What did I really think of SubbuteoFest? Like everything in our hobby nothing worth doing is instantly perfect. I found myself taking a break from watching the genuinely brilliant tournament action to gaze at the other side of the sports hall and imagining lots of casual tables and a larger fair in the style of Farthinghoe. While Alan Crampton delivered a spectacular fair event a couple of months ago, and his namesake Alan Lee, Gerry Harrington and others delivered a wonderful tournament weekend at SubbuteoFest, the next step has to be bringing all of the moving parts together into one place.
But progress is being made. Getting Subbuteo to delivered trophies and endorsements for a tournament feels like a major step in the right direction for the brand and the community. A video message from Mark Adolph for the event was another PR win. A documentary maker was also attending hoping to bring Subbuteo to the small screen, while reaction from the community was overwhelmingly positive.
The standard of competitors and the distances people travelled to take part – some from Malta, Italy and Austria, as well as Glasgow, Wolverhampton and Manchester all attended – shows SubbuteoFest has major pull. The ‘biggest event in the UK’ moniker is hard won and well deserved.
SubbuteoFest was slick, professional, friendly and inspiring. I loved every minute of the event and I will be back next year. The work of everybody involved is so impressive and next year it will only get bigger and better. Next year give it a go. You won’t regret it.