The best Subbuteo rules for beginners

You have climbed up to the loft and dusted off the old Subbuteo set. Carefully ironed the pitch and set up your teams.

Now what?

Subbuteo is pretty easy to begin with. You simply flick the players (remember not to use your thumb to flick) and try to get the ball in the goal.

However, what happens if the ball goes out of play? Or a defender hits the attacking player and not the ball? In fact, how many touches can you take with a single player?

Subbuteo rules can be quite complex the more serious people take the game. I the more professional table football game the rule books are huge, with clauses and sub clauses updated regularly with strict protocols.

But if you just fancy a quick flickabout follow these rules to get up and running:

The basic rules

The general rules of play are basically the same as those for Association Football, with some necessary additions to govern their application to Subbuteo Table Soccer. .

Kicking off and possession

As in real football, a coin is tossed for ends and the losing team kicks off.

You kick off by flicking your player at the ball. If your player touches the ball, it is still in your possession. If your player misses the ball the opposition can flick a player at the ball and so on.

If you have possession of the ball a single player can touch it three times in succession before another one of your players must touch it.

If you flick and the ball touches an opposition player possession switches to the opposition.

For each ‘attacking’ flick, the defending team can flick a player. However, that player is not allowed to touch an attacking player or the ball. If they do so it is a free kick to the attacking team.


Subbuteo pitches have an extra line that you won’t see on a real football pitch. This line, half way between the half way line and the penalty area, is called the shooting line.

Players must be inside the shooting line before they can shoot.

Goal kicks

Goal kicks can be taken by a defender.

You can also use a ‘standing goalkeeper’. These are Subbuteo players without the stick attached.

Players can be moved and placed back into position from goal kicks. However, players can not be placed in the opposition shooting area.


Throw-ins are taken from the touchline by ‘kicking’ the ball in the normal manner from the point where it crossed the line, but the figure taking the kick must not follow over the line into the playing area. If it does, the opposing side is awarded a foul throw and re-takes it.

You can also use special throw in takers.

Moving players for free kicks, corners and throw ins

When throw-ins, corner kicks, etc. are to be taken, players may use ‘free flicks’ to put their figures into position to mark dangerously placed opposing figures, and/or set up their own for defensive or attacking movements. These are used for positional play and must not contact the ball. The important thing is not to be hasty – aim carefully – imagine you are playing shove ha’penny and try to place your figures in exactly the required position.

(1) For Corner Kicks both sides may flick three figures for positioning and marking with the attacking side flicking first.
(2) For Free Kicks both sides may move TWO figures.
(3) For Throw-ins ONE figure of each side may be flicked in position.

When ‘free flicks’ take place the defending side should be the last to move a figure.


Just as in real life football, ‘kick and rush’ tactics are out-dated and do not pay. Instinctively, you will probably play a close passing game or rely upon long sweeping passes to tactically placed figures. A defensive or attacking game, develop the game which comes most naturally to you, and remember that it is the skilful positioning of your figures that gets the results.

When starting an attacking movement be sure to use every ‘free flick’ you gain to send a figure towards or into your opponent’s half. In defence, always try to mark your opponent’s most dangerous figures. Subbuteo is a game of skill – always be adventurous but never reckless.

When you have the ball to yourself in some area of the pitch, with your nearest opponent some distance away, it is sometimes worthwhile to miss hitting the ball so that you are in a position to shoot straight for goal when next you are in play. Remember, every ‘flick to kick’ is important, be sure and make full use of it. Otherwise you may let your opponent into play and find yourself on the losing side.

That Subbuteo Table Soccer is THE game with which authentic football tactics can be reproduced is proved by the fact that so many famous national and international clubs use it regularly for tactical study and games analysis.

In all sports and games there must be honour between competitors, at all levels. The losing side has the right to declare the length of time that shall be taken for the replacing of the figures for a goal kick, free kick, corner or throw-on. Players should mutually agree as to procedure when in doubt over any matter relative to the game. If a third person is acting as referee his decision should be accepted as final without dispute.

These Rules have been copied / written to help development of the game and may be freely copied under the terms of the Creative Commons licence. This license allows the rules to be freely distributed or edited, even for commercial use, as long as the original author is credited. 

© 2002-12 The Independent Subbuteo Forum

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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