The inside story of the Subbuteo team that played a single game

The last international break saw North Macedonia stun Germany with a 2-1 victory in World Cup qualifying.

The North Macedonia kit, with its sunbeam pattern, was never created in Subbuteo since it’s such a new country but it did get me thinking about those Subbuteo teams that are a little piece of history because they represent countries that technically no longer exist.

Germany is a good place to begin. That classic ref 768 kit from World Cup 1990 with the German flag design across the chest is actually a West Germany kit, worn before the unification of the country.

There is another team from the heavyweight era that no longer exists. the UK team (ref 065) was based on a ‘Rest of the UK’ side that played Wales in the ‘Prince of Wales Investure’ at Ninian Park in Cardiff. Over 13,000 people came to watch the game, where a Rest of the UK side managed by Alf Ramsey contained the likes of George Best, Jack Charlton, Tommy Gemmell and Billy Bremner.

 A Wales side featuring John Toshack, Gary Sprake and Cliff Jones went down 1-0 top a Franny Lee goal. 

The team wore white shirts to represent England, dark blue shorts for Scotland and green socks for Northern Ireland.  However, the shorts are particularly dark and were often painted black by the outreach workers of Kent.

According to the BBC a similar match had been played in 1951 to mark the beginning of the Welsh FA. It says: “Looking for an occasion to mark the investiture of Prince Charles in 1969, the FAW arranged for the two teams to do battle once again at Ninian Park.

“England and Tottenham midfielder Alan Mullery was one of four Englishmen in the Rest of the UK’s star-studded starting line-up that day.

“It was quite a privilege to get picked in that side. To play with that calibre of players from the Home Nations was quite something,” he told BBC Sport Wales.

“George Best was one of the world’s greats. He was hard as nails as well – if you hit him, he just came back for more.

“When you played in the Home Championship, you certainly wanted to win because you didn’t want to return to your club the next week and have the Scottish or Irish players having the bragging rights.”

The match was unusual in that players were awarded actual international caps, and it may have been this that inspired Subbuteo to keep making the kit right up until the Zombie era. In fact, Alan Crampton of Subbuteo Passion shared a picture of his Zombie UK team this week and it looks fantastic.

The UK is not the only side that no longer exists. Ref 176, Zaire, is a popular heavyweight team after their appearance at the 1974 World Cup, while Ranger and Portsmouth teams of the 1980s were often labelled as Yugoslavia.

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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