Sinéad Fogarty meets the football players leaving it all on the table.
Roars of victory and cries of vanquish volley across the kelly green pitch, as the spirit of Maradona and Messi surge towards an atomic orange soccer ball. Players clad in royal purple puncture past a gutter-dwelling defense. A gasp, then a goal.
Yet instead of a stadium, we’re at the back of a gaming store. The pitch is just a few paces long, while the soccer ball mimics a marble. A skittle-like scatter of jerseys hover around several playing tables. Subbuteo is the fanging football you know and love, fun-sized.
“It’s a combination of chess, on the run, with snooker. So it’s tactical, but it’s technical, and it requires a lot of fine motor skill,” says Steve Dettre, from the Northern Falcons Table Football Club.
“The flicking, positioning and the tactics are different from football, but there’s still enough of a connection for the football freaks to love the game.”
Giuseppe Tardiota is one such football freak. A lifelong soccer superfan and hobby-painter, he has been a leading member of the Brisbane Table Football Club for the past five years. A focal point of tournaments around the country are his team of 11 hand-painted figurines. Each are meticulously detailed, down to a manicured moustache.
“I used to paint Warhammer 40,000, a tabletop miniature wargame, and then I began painting the miniatures for Subbuteo,” said Mr Tardiota.
High-school art teacher Adrien Elmer also mixes creativity with competitiveness, joining Subbuteo Parramatta four years ago after painting the figurines since he was a kid.
“I run Subbuteo club at my school, and this year we had nearly 50 kids join in. In first term they try it out and practice, before we play a tournament,” said Mr Elmer.
Mr Dettre agrees it’s a great activity for young people as it helps develop fine motor skill as well as sportsmanship: “It’s a bit different from playing a computer game because you’re actually facing the other person – you’ve got to learn to lose, be a gracious winner, and accept the referee.”
Across Australia there are 11 clubs hosting more than 100 active players, many of whom hope to bend it like Benji Batten. President of the Australian Table Association, Benji enthuses the fun and vibrant community, and the friendships, are the best thing about the sport.
“When we’re on the tables playing, it’s a little bit competitive. But off the pitch, we’re all just great friends – there’s a real social aspect to it,” said Mr Batten, from the Melbourne Table Football Club.
Finger football aficionado Bernard Lim travelled all the way from Singapore for the Sydney International Cup held on September 24. Representing the Singapore Lions Subbuteo Club, Mr Lim is aiming to reignite the passion for the game in his home country, which was very popular during his childhood.
“I started playing when I was a little kid but by the 90s the sport kind of died. In the last five to six years we have been trying to start a revival by getting together old friends, to help restart the whole energy and scene again,” said Mr Lim.
As the final seconds of the match tumble forward, flicks are ferried or desperately thwarted. As the siren sounds, the figurines are bundled into briefcases, before the players rest their weary hands … around a well-deserved bevvie. – Story, video and graphics by Sinéad Fogarty