The modern classic Subbuteo set and why it is important

It costs around £60,000 to convince Hasbro to use the Subbuteo license for a branded box set or item of clothing. That is probably beyond the means of many in the Subbuteo community who are actually producing Subbuteo-quality items.

The high cost of entry – which is unsurprising given how beloved the Subbuteo brand is around the world – means any new products are restricted to current license holders Longshore producing something noteworthy or, far more likely, an existing major brand steps in and produces a range themselves.

It just so happens that late last year a brand did decide to splash out for the Subbuteo license and it has resulted in probably the best new Subbuteo set in 20 years.

Last year men’s fashion brand Pretty Green revealed it was moving into the world of Subbuteo with a new clothing range comprising a number of Subbuteo-themed t-shirts, a nice jacket and a new box set. The clothing company also designed a Subbuteo keyring and a giant collectable Subbuteo figure.

At the time it seemed like an unusual move. The only Subbuteo releases we had been treated to for over a decade have been low quality box sets and the odd accessory such as VAR or training sets. Meanwhile, new Subbuteo clothing has been restricted to supermarket discount baskets and half-hearted football tournament designs.

In reality it was a master stroke. Subbuteo and music goes hand in hand. From My Perfect Cousin by the Undertones to the Housemartins and their limited edition figurine, there has always been a special relationship between the table top game and the world of music. It even stretched to the Subbuteo pitch itself, with Liverpool band The Farm getting their very own Subbuteo team in the 1990s, designed at the Subbuteo factory by the band itself.

Ans what better way to launch a new Subbuteo set than to celebrate the bizarre six aside tournament from 1996 that saw bands Reef, Dodgy, Bluetones, Pulp, Massive Attack, Blur or Oasis meet in front of 5,000 fans to compete in a charity tournament. The highlight of course was the grudge match between Oasis and Blur just weeks after Liam Gallagher had famously made a ‘Shitelife’ joke after belting out the Blur song while picking up a BAFTA.

The Battle of the Britpop ended in a Blur victory (2-1, with Robbie Williams and Jarvis Cocker appearing for the Manchester City-clad Sky Blue Oasis side) but the iconic photos from the tournament where the inspiration for the Pretty Green x Subbuteo box set and it is an absolute triumph.

Why is this the best Subbuteo set for a generation? It may be the quality of the box design, which ditches the childish cartoon feel of modern Subbuteo for a more stylised image on the front featuring a more traditional green and the Pretty Green logo. It may also be the quality pitch and ball designs, which again feature the Pretty Green logo.

However, it is probably because the set is actually aimed at collectors and not children. It mixes a dose of nostalgia with quality design and implementation, all while not really taking itself too seriously. The bucket hat-clad teams are an improvement on the rubbery cartoon characters of modern Subbuteo sets and the fact they’re based on two of the defining Britpop bands of the era means more than just traditional Subbuteo collectors are likely to be intrigued by the set.

It’s not perfect. The goals are rubbish and the figures could be a bit more refined but given the complete lack of competition when it comes to quality official Subbuteo sets, this one is an instant modern classic.

The Pretty Green box set is important because it is the first time since Subbuteo’s peak years that somebody with the power to make decisions on the direction of a new Subbuteo box set has actively decided to make something that adults will want to buy, display and collect. It is finally recognising that the money to be found in the Subbuteo brand is in its collectability and the warm place it holds in the hearts of adults who have disposable income and a love of football, music or both.

It is a grown up Subbuteo set that gives a childish nod to the game we used to love – and it’s a collectable, not a toy. Pretty Green said as much when launching the set last year. The marketing was clear on it being a limited edition and it sold out accordingly. Now sets are being listed for over £100 on popular auction sites and many are selling for double the initial price. By holding their nerve on supply and sticking to their premium brand values Pretty Green have done what numerous licence holders have failed to do for decades – they have made Subbuteo cool again.

Why write about this now? The Pretty Green set is long gone, I hear you shout. Well, it so happens that the last of the t-shirts and the fairly expensive figurine are now half price on the Pretty Green website. But it is not just that.

On the 3rd October the Brand Licensing Expo 2023 in London takes place. The world’s brands will gather to negotiate new licensing deals with the biggest companies in the world and Hasbro are active there. In fact, the Pretty Green collaboration was announced at last year’s event and Hasbro is attending again. The success of the Pretty Green box will hopefully lead to more brands approaching them, putting the money down on a Subbuteo license and delivering some more official Subbuteo items that people want to buy.

It is also worth mentioning Panini will be attending the event. Let’s hope they end up in the same room as the Hasbro execs. We can dream can’t we?

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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