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Peter Upton's

Newfooty Tribute Website.

or 90 Years of Table Football.

Part 1: The Newfooty Game 1929-1953

Newfooty was the fore-runner to Subbuteo Table Soccer, and can lay claim to being the original finger flicking table soccer game. It was first produced in 1929 by William (Will) L. Keeling and so as I write this in 2004, the game has reached its 75th anniversary. Sounds about time for a tribute to Newfooty* !

Newfooty was also a bitter rival to Subbuteo in the 1950s, and advertised itself as "the Original Game". There was certainly the feeling that Peter Adolph had "borrowed" heavily from Newfooty when producing his own table top game. As we shall see, the games do look pretty similar in the 1950s, with regard to the size of the pieces and the methods of play. 

However, the truth is that neither game was produced in isolation, and both build on other early football games. The size of the goals, the ball, and method of goalkeeping must owe something to blow football. Likewise, the outfield players seem to have developed from the shove ha'penny style of game using coins or buttons. Another game worth mentioning is "Shoot" a football game in the style of Tiddlywinks. An alternative football game to come from these roots is futbolchapas, a Spanish/Latin American game played with bottle tops.(see the wonderful Ligafutbolchapas.com  for details). 

*Wow. Was this page really written fifteen years ago? Newfooty has now reached its nineties.

Whilst on the subject of "borrowing", much of the information on this page was found in, or at least backed up by, the following published accounts of Newfooty. 

I'm aware that I've not gone into details about the methods of play for Newfooty. However, there will hopefully be a page on the rules later on.

1929-39 The Pre-War Years. 

Richard Payne's book on Subbuteo history - "Fifty years of Flicking Football", says that Newfooty was invented by William Keeling in 1927 to amuse his nephews. Glyn Williams' article mentions 1925, and says it was designed for Mr Keeling's son Donald, and nephew Roy. No matter. The leaflets and boxes from the 1950s proudly state that the game was "invented in 1929", and this date (the first year of manufacture) is good enough for me!

Having found that the game was popular with his son's friends, Will Keeling formed "The Newfooty Co." to sell the game commercially. As with many toys of this vintage, this was a small scale production, sold mail-order only with some very primitive playing pieces, some of which were made at the Keeling family home. The address in the early days was 6 York Street, Walton, Liverpool 9.


Pre-War box sets.
The "blue box" shown on the left is from the early 1930s, with the "red box" set dating from the late 1930s. 

Through all of the Newfooty eras, the box sets were sold in a range of box sizes and colours, so although the blue box is the earlier one here, it is dangerous to assume that all the early sets are blue. I have seen a blue box version of the later label shown here, and this label was also briefly used after the war years (Subbuteoworld had a 1947 example).

The earliest (undated) price list that I have seen had two sets listed. The Ordinary Game had unpainted bases, a single ball, goals and a fixture card for 2/ (plus 3d post). The deluxe game provided coloured bases (simply painted by hand), "best enamelled goals", and an extra ball. This set cost 3/6d. The range of box sets had reached four by 1939, with two extra deluxe sets. 

Ordinary Set With 22 card players, plain bases, ball, wire/card goals, fixture card and rule book
Deluxe Set No. 1 As above, but with coloured bases, real nets, and an extra ball.
Deluxe Set No. 2 Deluxe No 1, plus "best finish" goals and corner flags.
Deluxe Set No. 3 Deluxe No 2 plus table clamps, boundary cord, and marked out cloth.


The players were made of card and slotted into a slightly curved lead base. The lead bases were plain in the basic sets, and painted to match the team colours in the more deluxe sets. The bases were very flat, and the card figures do seem to be a simple attempt to add some 3-D to the coin-flicking style of game. The card figure was drawn in an action pose, and this design idea was kept through various figure changes. This is in marked contrast to the card Subbuteo figure when it arrived. At this stage, the same illustration was on both sides of the player. However, as you should be able to see the two teams in the set shown here each have a different design.

The cheaper sets had wire goals with paper nets, but the "best finish" ones were very strange indeed, and probably  my favourite Newfooty item. As shown above, they had thick wooden posts and a perforated metal net. Very robust !! The price list of the period offered the wire goals with green and white card for 3d a pair. A perforated zinc "enamelled" goal was 6d, and the deluxe zinc and (painted) wood goal was 10d. However, there is a suggestion in that undated list that the goal types were being reworked, and they were frequently through the life of the game. 

The earliest balls were a rather odd two-tone design produced in celluloid, and the colours on these vary. These were sourced from other manufacturers and may well come from another game entirely. Several I've seen don't even look very round. As with early Subbuteo, including a pitch all but doubled the price, and so this was only provided in the top-of-the-range set, and price lists that actually offer this set are very intermittent even up to the mid-1950s. The marking out was simply done in chalk. The instruction book mentions marking out the centre circle and penalty arcs using a "10-inch gramophone record, with the spot on the field showing through the hole in the centre of the record." A 10-inch record?? That's some centre-circle. I have yet to see a set with one of these early pitches, and they don't become common until much later in Newfooty's life.

The sets continued to be made throughout the 1930s, and various coloured teams became available. This feature again pre-dates one of the key factors in Subbuteo's success, that of making repeat sales to existing customers. The earliest list I've seen shows eleven colours. The players also grew slightly in the late 1930s, from being an inch high, to about an inch and a quarter.

1939-45 The War Years.


Now this is an interesting set. In Richard Payne's "Fifty Years of Flicking Football" book, it states that Subbuteo inventor Peter Adolph felt that Newfooty had "ceased production at the outbreak of the Second World War and.... was re-launched in 1948 as a direct counter to Subbuteo". That may have been how it appeared to him, but even big toy producers like Hornby had to stop production during the War. Newfooty enthusiasts reported still being able to order teams through the war years. As the game was "mail-order only" and run from the Keeling home, it wouldn't have been hard to continue offering this service. However, this little set (owned by Worthing Five-Star regular Paul Woodhouse), suggests something a little different. Whilst the box, and contents shown are essentially a standard pre-war Newfooty set, the box lid has a very plain label printed in red. In the bottom left-hand corner of the lid is an explanation of this rather drab version of the game - "war time label". Was the game produced right through this period?


As mentioned, the box and contents of this set match the pre-war years of Newfooty, and the contents were pretty basic. The players were smaller than in the 1950s sets, and all of one design (although it is an attractive illustration). The bases were still just the small circle of lead, here painted to match the figures. A nice touch  (and you can also see it in the goal picture in the next section), is that the striped team had thin stripes painted onto the blue base. Note that the goalkeeper rod hooked around the card figure. The ball, if it is original, is suitably horrible. The goals were different to the 1930s sets, being constructed of wood, stables, and real nets. These are rather lovely, and continued into the 1950s.

1946-51 The Post-War Years.

If like most toy companies, production of Newfooty had all but ceased during the Second World War as the raw materials became scarce,  then the game came back into full production in 1947, to find that it had a rival....

The 1947-48 set.

Obviously, rationing continued for a few years after the war had ended, and Newfooty took a little while to get back into production, but as soon as possible, the game was back up and running.

 A large collection of Newfooty sets is passing through Subbuteoworld in 2023. One set that caught my eye was dated (via the paperwork) to 1947. This set still had the late 1930s box illustration on the lid, the war time figures, unpainted bases and the cheap wire and card goals. So essentially it was the pre-war ordinary set. (Of course, this makes the wartime label set actually deluxe set no 1). I wonder whether this 1947 set had been released prior to Newfooty really being aware of the arrival of Subbuteo, because it is the "1948" sets that are obviously responding to the threat. The paperwork in this set calls the teams "cardboard figures, 1947 style, one position only" and offers a limited range of colours. The new equipment was to be available from "October 1948", and was described thus: "The men in the 1948 teams are smaller than the 1947 type. Each man in the team is different and active in appearance. They should not be used without the Patent Balancing Discs. The 1947 men can be made to fit the discs which will make the men almost 100% self-balancing in play. Any of the new teams shown on the Price List can be obtained before October, but will need trimming before use". Newfooty are being a little optimistic about the self-balancing discs in my opinion, but it did make them remove a couple of rules from the rule book that explained what to do it a man stayed down.

Okay, lets looks at the new figures.

The first Orange label sets 1948-mid 1950s

Probably the most common box set. "Invented 1929"

There were new card figures for 1948, and celluloids were added in 1949-50. Both came in "improved" bases. This made for two box sets, and both are described as deluxe. With new plastic balancing discs giving colour, there was no longer a need for painted bases. These new sets with their pretty orange and green labels, proudly state that the game was invented in 1929. This was clearly a reaction to Subbuteo's arrival, and must be the sets Peter Adolph felt were "a direct counter" to his game.

Deluxe Set No. 1 Similar to the pre-war Deluxe Set One, with card players, lead bases, and goal nets.
Deluxe Set No. 2 With celluloid figures, deluxe goals, corner flags, clips and boundary cord etc. 


Post-war "deluxe" goals, in wood or plastic. 
Note the distinctive Newfooty nets, which were apparently cut from a dyed green net curtain .

A pitch was not supplied with either set, but was available in the accessory list. Newfooty did use this to their advantage in some respects as promotional material stated that  "Newfooty can be played on any level table of moderate size covered with a cloth; if it can be marked out to represent a football field so much the better." The cheap goals were still simply printed card with an enamelled metal front to keep them robust, whilst the deluxe goals were hand-made out of wood, with real nets, as seen in the war time set.

The 1948 players were still card, but the design had improved. As mentioned above the players were still in action pose, but there were now five different poses per team, but mirror images were used to make ten different outfield players. However, the celluloid teams do not always come out like that (especially the later versions from the 1950s). The illustrations also finally had a back and a front. Celluloid figures were introduced in 1949-50 (the same year as Subbuteo). These used the same player images, but were printed onto a transparent celluloid, which really allowed the figure to stand out. If this had a down side, it is just that the detail from one side could often be seen through the image on the other side. This became more of a problem once the players were numbered sometime after 1953.

The post-war bases were an attempt to improve on the older versions, as they now had a coloured balancing disc that sat on top of the lead base. The new card and celluloid figure had a smaller tab on the bottom that fitted through the plastic and into the lead, but the two parts of the base were really held together by two plastic pins on the underside of the balancing disc. The weight was simply the older base, and this was thin and flexible enough to squeeze the pins firmly in the groove. Well, that's the theory. In practice the bases have a tendency to fall apart in play.

At first only a plastic balancing disc was produced, but later listings had a "rubber" disc for the card figures, and a "plastic" disc for the new celluloid figures. These discs apparently had to be different to match the different weights of the celluloid and card players. This made for a confusing list of components, which became even more confusing with another new figure and base in 1953 (see below for details).

 1951-52 Rising to the competition. 

In his "Newfooty Story", Glyn Williams explains that in the years 1947-51 Will Keeling was working at the United Photographic Laboratory in Liverpool, with Newfooty still being a part-time venture. In the same way that Peter Adolph produced Subbuteo to cover the slack winter period in his Natural History business, so Will Keeling used the decrease in demand for photography processing during winter to his advantage. The company allowed him to use the staff and facilities of the company for "Newfooty" production with Newfooty Co picking up the wage bill. This enabled the company to grow, and in 1951 Mr Keeling was able to obtain his own premises and go full time. The new factory was the quaintly named "Old Post Office Building, Rice Lane, Liverpool 9". The premises also had the advantage of also having a shop front, where the game could be promoted and sold.

The new full time Newfooty produced a range of three box sets, although all were housed under the same label (again, the box sizes and colours seem to vary).

These card teams came from a collection from this era (with the balancing discs). As Set 1 states, "No cutting required".

Name Price Description
No 1 Set 10/11 post free Card figures (no cutting required), balancing discs/lead bases, card goals with metal fronts, one ball, fixture card, chalk*, rules sheet.
No 1a Set 14/11 post free Celluloid figures, balancing discs/lead bases, card goals with metal fronts, two balls, fixture card, chalk, full handbook
No 2 Set 18/11 post free Celluloid figures, balancing discs/lead bases, deluxe goals (metal or wood construction), two balls, fixture card, chalk, 4 clips to fasten goals to cloth, 4 spring table clips and plastic piping boundary, and full handbook.

*The chalk seems to be a new addition, and a response to Subbuteo I suppose. Once again, these sets lack the full pitch option.

The 1951-52 season paperwork used the Old Post Office address, and promotional materials made much of the "original" nature of the game. "Why buy a Substitute?" asks the box set price list of that year. Another leaflet mailed out to prospective customers (the one I own is post-marked 26 Nov 1951 Liverpool) was even more to the point - "As imitation is the highest form of flattery, we feel immensely flattered that Newfooty has been imitated, but would point out that only Newfooty has the complete rules as compiled by the inventor over a period of years and patent self-balancing men of recent design". Meow. The leaflet is also quick to point out that the Newfooty players Assn was formed in 1934, and that "silver cups"  were loaned to the four largest leagues.

As the above suggests, by 1951 Will Keeling had a patent for his bases (No 638860), but Peter Adolph already had his patents by this time, so it was of limited use (the patent was also added to the "Invented 1929" football on the box lid). Sadly, this patent simply referred to the post-war plastic/lead combo base. The literature puts a positive spin on these bases:

Despite the gloss, these bases were not up to Subbuteo standard. Subbuteo bases were described by Peter Adolph as hemispherical, but of course they were not. The flat bottom was all important. What was better about Subbuteo bases was the curve of the edge, the uniform size, and the lighter weight enabling longer flicks to be attempted with more accuracy. The flat lead bases were showing their age. Newfooty needed a further update to compete.

1953 Newfooty imitates Subbuteo?

Full time production led to the "1953 type" players and bases. These new one-piece bases looked much more like the base of the "flat" Subbuteo figure of the time, but they were smaller in diametre, and the lead component of the base was still visible from underneath. Despite the small size, the base was far heavier than the Subbuteo equivalent. Add to this the steep sides and metal bottom, and it was difficult to flick the figure any distance. On the plus side, it was almost impossible for the players to fall over if assembled correctly, and some pretty impressive spinning could be achieved. An odd feature that occurred with these bases were swirls of a different colour within the base. I've seen a white base with red swirl, and the player above has a black base with white swirl. The players themselves were the same transparent celluloid of the previous model, but they had been re-drawn, and re-shaped to the illustration of the player. Card figures were also still available.

This version of Newfooty was the first one I acquired, and my immediate reaction was of just how much Subbuteo had taken from Newfooty. However, having seen the bases on the 1951-52 set, you have to wonder whether it was Newfooty borrowing ideas by this time. The earlier lead bases and balancing discs did not allow the goalkeeper rods to plug into the base, and these actually clipped around the figure. This was the first Newfooty set where the goalkeeper rod was stuck into the back of the goalkeeper base like Subbuteo.

Something Newfooty did do first were plastic goals, which also arrived at this time to replace the hand-made versions. These were "perfectly formed from extruded rod" according to the price list of the time. They had a metal back bar for strength, but still look extremely flimsy. You can see where the plastic rods have been cut to size, and the net is simply glued on. 

The range of box sets expanded to four costing 10/11, 14/11, 19/11 and 45/4 respectively. Obviously, the most expensive set had the addition of a pitch.

To help fight the competition from Mr Adolph's upstart game, Will Keeling found support from two prominent players of the day, Stanley Matthews and Nat Lofthouse. Pictures and support from these two legends adorn several boxes and rule books.

The history of Newfooty continues on the Page Two of this guide. Or use the links below to look at other tabletop football games.

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