Journeyman Jones: Getting kicks from table-top triumphs

THERE can be nothing more worrying than grown men trying to rediscover their youth. This can manifest itself in all sorts of ways: the sensible family car gives way to the cherry-red Mustang, women who were once thought to be unattainable are chased wit

THERE can be nothing more worrying than grown men trying to rediscover their youth.

This can manifest itself in all sorts of ways: the 'sensible' family car gives way to the cherry-red Mustang, women who were once thought to be unattainable are chased with abandon, or dedicated fitness regimes and fad diets are suddenly embarked upon with zeal.

For two Ely men, however, this return to the halcyon days of youth takes a different form: they play Subbuteo.

Subbuteo, for those of you who don't know, is the popular table football game I enjoyed as a youngster. I guarded my 1988 Liverpool side as if life itself depended on it, even if John Barnes got too fat in later years to fit in his little compartment, or there were too many dodgy perms for my liking.

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I even had the scoreboard, advertising hoardings, three different types of goals, floodlights which were always knackered, special men who took throw-ins and corner kicks and even a grandstand with small, plastic spectators.

Obsessive, I know, but then I was only 10. I had yet to discover drink, girls, video consoles, DVDs, pub sports or even pubs themselves.

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When I gave up Subbuteo, the game seemed to be on the wane. Teams were harder to get hold of, numbers were in decline, our pet Labrador had stood/chewed on John Aldridge, rendering him completely ineffective, that type of thing.

But now, it's back. Almost worryingly so. The dedication of the two men who run the Ely league is either admirable or disturbing, depending on your point-of-view.

Andy Everitt and Scott Insall co-ordinate Ely's Subbuteo league. It's in its second year and, every fortnight, the back room of Imagez clothes shop in Market Street is given over to 20 of the game's die-hards who forget about their wives/girlfriends/children to focus on a game where you simply 'flick to kick'.

"It's getting worrying," admits Andy, who is currently involved in a tussle for first place with Scott. "I'm going home at night thinking about tactics."

Andy's interest started as a youngster when his uncle gave him 20 teams. He has played the game avidly since then, despite the fact that he runs a business full-time. He and Scott play each other about three times a day on average, and it's always fiercely competitive.

Two astro-turf pitches are laid out on chipboard, and on league nights, two matches are in progress at any one time. They are refereed according to the game's 'basic' rules (there's also 'advanced', by the way) and there has already been an FA Cup-style competition this year. In early June, plans are afoot for a World Cup at a friend's house. This is serious stuff.

"It's a very cultish phenomenon, and it's just bubbling underneath the surface," says Andy. There's a difference between this and computer games: if you lose a computer game, you can have another go. With this, there's pressure - if you lose the game, that's it."

Not that Andy and Scott lose many games. They are streets ahead of everyone else in the league - the table is written on a whiteboard at the far end of the room - and the number of impressive trophies on show is testament to the hard work they put into running the league.

Next season, which will start in September, they aim to have another division, and they are putting their feelers out to gauge interest levels now.

The current set-up attracts players aged between 19 and 40. It is perhaps indicative of the generation gap that there are no competitors younger, but they are cottoning onto the game. I would certainly recommend it to any youngster with an interest in football, or anyone with an interest in collecting, come to that.

Every team is covered, from Cambridge United to the Cook Islands ("my first astro base," Andy says proudly) and all the equipment is well maintained and looked after.

I might even enter my own team next year. It's surely the only time I can see Brighton and Hove Albion - £8.99 from the Subbuteo World website, I've already checked - in the upper reaches of any league, so it is an opportunity not to be missed.

If you would like to enter a team for next season's league, then best let the fellas know now. Andy can be reached on 01353 664774 or call Scott on 01353 669294. That is, if they're not playing each other at Subbuteo.

And why shouldn't they be? In this high-pressure world, we all need some form of escapism. Now, I must go. The cat has just chewed Steve Finnan. If only the same would happen in real life...

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