The history of Subbuteo Rugby

Subbuteo Rugby first appeared on the market in the mid 1950’s. It was available for about four years when due to very poor sales it was deleted. This first version was far removed from the version that we came to know and love.

It was available in two Boxed Sets, Standard and Deluxe, the only difference between the two being that the Deluxe set had a pitch. The contents were very basic, the figures were not the 00 Scale type, but discs about the size of a £1 coin. Onto the side of these you stuck some self adhesive stickers showing a ball carrying rugby player on them. They came in only two colours, blue discs, with the figures on the wearing blue and white hooped shirts, the red discs had figures wearing red and white hooped shirts.

The sets came with a goalkicker, this early version, was a flat figure on a traditional Subbuteo Flat base, with a small metal triangle at the rear. You placed the ball, which was slightly smaller and a darker brown than the later version, then lined the figure and ball up with the posts and flicked the top of the figure to propel the ball over the posts to kick the goal.

The goals were metal with white plastic tubing covering them. The pitch was the traditional baize of the 1950’s. What you did was place the discs on their sides and flicked them at the ball to manoeuvre it around the pitch.


Subbuteo rugby was re-launched in 1968, this time the figures were 00 scale. It came in two sets; International edition and Display Edition. The word New prefixed Subbuteo Rugby all over the box and in the catalogues and other literature advertising it.

The International Edition contained all you needed to play the game.


You will notice that this first version did not have the kicking wedge for drop goals, that came a couple of years later. The Goalkickers were of a more old fashioned style, they were later replaced with the ones that were sold right up to 1981. Any number of different teams were used in the set, unlike football where it was basic red and blue teams.

The goals now were white plastic on a green base/stand to keep them upright. The balls were a light brown and slightly bigger than the 1950’s version. The Scrummer was a device to aid the feeding of the scrum. It was shaped like half a ball and had a hole in the top into which you dropped the ball. Whosever side it came out from was deemed to have hooked the ball.

The Display Edition was a set for Rugby sevens, it contained 2 7-a-side teams, a kicker, two balls and two goals. You played it on a full sized pitch.

On purchasing Newfooty, the company was closed down, Subbuteo only took a few items with them for their own use. One of them was a 00 Scale 3D figure on a one piece base. This was to become the Chunky style Subbuteo Rugby Figure. Like all figures of that era the teams and kickers were hand painted.

The word ‘New’ was removed after a couple of years, and the more modern goalkicker was introduced as was the goalkicking wedge, designed to be used for drop goals.

Between 1968 and 1981 when Subbuteo Rugby last appeared in catalogues there were five versions of The International Edition. In the mid 1970’s the heavyweight football figures on the rugby bases were used in the sets, and from 1978 to 1981, both Lightweight football figures and Lightweight Zombie figures were used in the sets.

In 1979 Subbuteo Rugby Sevens Edition was issued, it had all you needed to play a game of 7-a-side Rugby Union or League. One interesting aspect was the pitch, it was smaller than the traditional pitch, and was of the nylon material. One other set you could buy Subbuteo Rugby in was World Of Sport which gave you a three in one set, Football, Cricket and Rugby, this was also deleted in 1981.

Subbuteo last appeared in catalogues in 1981, though it was still in European catalogues for a couple of years after that. The problem with Subbuteo Rugby was that it was a very difficult game to play. The rules were not clear or definitive either for League or Union. In Union more so than League, certain aspects of the game were hard to replicate. However, perhaps in hindsight more time and development should have been spent on them.

There was at one time a meeting to discuss if two separate versions should be made, one for League and one for Union. The pitch was neither Union or League, it was a hybrid one.

Nowadays with the growing popularity of both codes of the game and printing of teams, the game could have been far more successful.

Information provided by Paul Lloyd of World Subbuteo Rugby. This article first appeared on the old Subbuteo Rugby website.

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