Subbuteo Tribute Website.
Other Rival Games Part 2 (1980s-2000s)
This page is dominated by Pro Action Football, which was Subbuteo's big rival in the 1990s.
Cup Final (1980s)
This was a rubbish three-a-side version of Striker produced by Peter Pan Playthings, of Test Match cricket fame. The layout of the rules, and some of the components made this look like a companion game to their cricket game. Sadly, it was nowhere near as much fun.
I picked up a few bits from one of these sets in a second hand box of Subbuteo, and I can't say I was impressed. The pitch was made of a foamy substance that was shedding its coat alarmingly, and covered everything with bits of green. I'm afraid it went in the bin. This is a problem shared by Peter Pan's Test Match Cricket game. The goals are identical to Striker ones, but have plastic nets.
The outfield players were plastic with a metal kicking leg, with one player having a bent leg, and one a straight leg. The straight legged player had a scooped foot for lobbing the ball, but I can't say that this works very well. To make the players different from Striker or Big League, the kicking was controlled by a button on the back of the base.
The figures came in all red and all blue kits. The painting on the players was absolutely terrible, and probably worse than most of the Big League players I have encountered. Using red and blue plastic for the player and base would've been a better idea. The goalkeepers are identical in design to the original Striker goalkeepers, as they swivel at the waist and have a crooked arm for throwing the ball out.
The ball was not round, but more of a honeycomb with 32 sides. These were divided into two halves of different colours. In the rule book it says that the two halves are red and blue, but this was not always the case (black and white was an alternative). Basically, the team whose colour was on the top face had the right to play the ball. So the skill was to always keep the top face in your colour while dribbling. The rules also suggest that you can play with one player in each hand for quick passing. This method of play is similar to German game Tipp-Kick.
Pro Action Football (1990s)
This game remains a serious rival to Subbuteo, and was really the first soccer game for some time to offer something different. The method of play is very clever, and well thought out. Whisper this, but I've heard several Subbuteo addicts admit that their kids prefer Pro-Action football over Peter Adolph's glorious game.
This is another game that uses magnetism to good effect, but here the magnetic effect is between player and ball. Each player is mounted on a large green base that glides around on a ball bearing (Daleks somehow spring to mind). The base has a magnetic ring to which the ball can affix. Thus the player can run with the ball, and intercept passes by sliding onto the ball. Passing and shooting is done by tapping on the top of the player. The top half of the base then moves down, and the rims at the top and bottom of the base cause the ball to part from the ring and be propelled away from the figure. It is sometimes difficult to get the required force for shots.
The goalkeepers have a small round magnet in their chest, so they can catch the ball impressively. Goal kicks are also great fun, as you whack the goalkeeper stick on the pitch in different ways to produce different types of kick.
Pro-Action Football production seems almost as confusing as Super Striker production, with several different sets produced with overlapping dates. They were usually sold under the Parker or MB Games logos, but the copyright was Hasbro, and they obviously owned these other brands.
The Standard Parker box sets.
This was the standard version and is currently available at a car boot sale near you! There are slight variations to the box lid and layout, and the "now with barriers" edition above shows that the fence surround was not always included (but it usually is). The teams are red shirts and black shorts; versus blue shirts with black shorts. The outfield players come in three different figures, used for defender, midfielder and attacker, although this doesn't affect how they actually play. The machine printed detail includes numbers on the backs of the shirts and is very neat and attractive.
The goals resemble a strengthened Subbuteo tournament goal, with fitted nets, and a base that has a back bar and clips that fit it to the pitch. This works quite well for holding the goal in place. These goals also appeared in Subbuteo sets for a year or so in the mid 1990s after Hasbro had acquired Waddingtons.
The version of this set I own is copyright 1993, although the sets lasted much longer than that. In fact, the stock seemed to exist well into the Michael Owen era (see below). Various exclusive shop offers were also produced. My local toy shop chain Gamleys, had one such offer a couple of years ago, but embarrassingly, I can't remember what it was! I think a free stop watch was included in the set..
2016:- This German version of Pro Action football has been spotted by regular helper Ashley Hemmings. Although superficially similar to the UK edition, the box is smaller and deeper. Probably easier to store.
The Deluxe Parker Version.
This is a more unusual set, and featured an electronic scoreboard/Grandstand. The stands were two banks of green terracing which clipped to the front of the black scoreboard around a tunnel entrance to the pitch. The scoreboard bit of the device wasn't electronic at all. It was like the Subbuteo boards with names on card that slide in, and two rotating discs for the scores. The electronic part replicated the sound of the crowd. On the top of the device were five football shaped buttons. From the left these appear to be :-
If you had the crowd noise turned on, then buttons 2-5 blended into it rather cleverly. However, they also worked without it.
Another feature of the deluxe set were the free kick assistants. These were just pieces of plastic with a curved ramp at one end, and a place for the player base at the other. This allowed you to shoot over a defensive wall. Or it would if you could get enough force on the ball. The other advantage over the standard set is that one of the teams is a very well printed Brazil (this was also available in the team range). The other team was blue and white (as opposed to the usual blue and black).
Rather impressively, the whole scoreboard, grandstand device was available as an extra accessory, if you happened to own the standard box set and fancied some silly noises to go with it.....
This early version of the game had a team range, which I will cover once I've finished with the boxed editions.
The MB Games version (1996)
Another odd version. I picked this up at a car boot sale, because I though the figures looked different. In fact, this version has 10 different mouldings for the outfield players, which is advertised as a feature on the box. The teams are painted with white shorts rather than black, and have a variety of skin/hair colours. The figures are slightly smaller than the usual Parker ones, and the goals have simple plastic nets. However, these do have bases that clip into the fence surround, as opposed to the parker version where they clip onto the pitch. This is an improvement.
The simple goals and small players lead me to believe that this was an earlier version of Pro Action Football, but in fact the box is dated 1996, so it appears in the middle of the Parker era. The picture on the back of the box also shows the usual Parker version with the black shorted players (but with the simple goals).
MB Games - Slim Box Edition (1999).
This version has been styled to match the MB Games board game boxes of the period, with the distinctive white panel on the left. This long thin style of box carries into the Michael Owen era of the early 2000s. By far the most interesting thing about this version is that it has an official FC Barcelona spin off (shown below).
The Barcelona Edition (also MB Games)
This version was apparently only sold in the Barcelona club shop, and featured a team in Barcelona strip and a team in all white ready for painting. As luck would have it, all white can also represent arch-rivals Real Madrid of course. Oh what a coincidence! This is another version sold under the MB games logo, which again has the familiar white box end. I've had a report that a few alternative boxed Spanish sides turned up in a catalogue surplus shop in Scotland (see "team range" section for details).
Michael Owen Total Action Football.
This was yet another re-launch of the game. Although cashing in on Michael Owen's popularity, it was identical to the Parker version with red/black, blue/black figures. These sets arrived on the boot sale scene in good numbers, which suggests that they sold well enough...
November 2020:- I've finally illustrated the Michael Owen sets (from ebay!). Doesn't he look really young? How time flies..... I've also noticed that this is the first set to be classed as "Total Action Football" rather than "Pro Action Football". Why? Who knows, but it makes internet searches twice the work.....
December 2004: The sets for Christmas 2004 were a five-a-side version in a fold up case, and a full edition with the addition of another electronic device. This new device was a scoreboard that gave out nuggets of commentary when the score was changed- the box suggests these gems....
"It's a Walk in the Park"
"What a Finish. Where was the defence?"
I can't confirm this because I've always managed to avoid buying the set at boot sales for some reason.
Total Action Football - Club del Calcio.
For other countries, the Michael Owen branding was never going to work. So here is a more straightforward Total Action set from Italy. It seems to have the "all different" red/white and blue/white teams, and the distributor was Giochi Prezios.
Official England Total Action Football (2006).
October 2006: The 2006 toy shop catalogues revealed both full size and five-a-side versions available as official "England" products. The pitch on the full version had the three lions logo in the centre circle. This set was manufactured under licence by Vivid Imaginations Ltd, and it benefited from bring sold in a much smaller box than usual. The teams were the smaller version from the MB games version above (as were the simple plastic goals). The teams were described as England vs Opposition, and were in basic colours. England simply had white shirts and navy shorts, whilst the opposition were almost Brazil, with yellow shirts, blue shorts and white socks (but no green trim). The pitch in my set is a bit weird, as the lines and England flag seem to be printed on the wrong side. (imagine playing on the smooth side of the modern Subbuteo pitches).
Hungarian Vivid Imaginations Version.
This is the only other version I have seen with the Vivid Imaginations branding. The box lid suggests the same two teams as the England version, so England and Brazil. Not sure who they would have represented for Hungarian kids, but there you go. Perhaps Brazil support is universal these days....
Whilst Hungary seems a rather random place to get their own version, it is interesting to note that it is the one eastern European country to have a distributor on the early 1990s team boxes. So perhaps the game had always been a success there.
Ideal Total Action Football (2009-2012)
The modern era of Subbuteo dates to the partwork/M&S sets of 2009, and the Paul Lamond relaunch of 2012. Matching nicely to these dates, are these reinvented Total Action Football sets. Over the last 20 years, this game has been much more successful in having a toy shop presence than Subbuteo. As Subbuteo is owned by a huge toy company, and Total Action Football has swapped toy labels on a regular basis, I'm not sure why this is.
Anyway, these two similar looking sets on the Ideal board games label, also seem to have moved through owners. The plain version (on the left) is copyright 2009 Toy Brokers, whilst the Championship Edition is from John Adams Leisure Limited and dated 2012, although the address for both companies is the same. Both sets state that Total Action Football is a trademark of Wat Now Ltd.
Once again, the box has shrunk. This is most convenient for storage. As with the England sets, the game is played on the shiny side of the pitch. This might make for a better sliding game, but it still looks wrong to me. The 2009 set opens at the ends, whilst the 2012 version opens from the top (much better to be honest). Despite the small size, these sets are jammed with extras. There are plastic risers to help take corners and free kicks, plus a special shooting base for each team's main striker. This is higher than the usual bases, and the tension can be tightened. Does any of this work? Well sometimes! I think I'm too timid to really whack the players, and so often the ball refuses to leave the striker/riser. If it does work, a rising free kick over the wall is rather cool though. There are also new diving goalkeepers. These sound better than they actually are, with the goalkeeper having limited movement within a rather unwieldy base unit. Sadly, as pointless as Subbuteo's spring loaded live-action 'keepers....
In the basic 2009 version, the teams are simply red/white and blue/white, in the small figures used in the MB and England products. In the Championship Edition, theses small players are advertised as being in International colours, and you get "England" in white/blue (royal, rather than navy), and interestingly "Spain" in red and blue. Another nice alternate team if you are collecting these things.
Oh, and the Championship Edition also features a really small, and very cheap looking Cup.
Ideal Total Action Football - Five-a-side version (2016-date)
We've reached 2020 and the Total Action Football brand continues to exist with this cut down five-a-side version. The standard play is now advertised as "Glide Technology". Indeed. The advantage of five-a-side is the smaller pitch of course. This has half-circle penalty areas reminiscent of Subbuteo's Football Express. It also keeps the price down, so that the standard version comes in at around £20. The set still has the "power strikers" from the previous Ideal version (a taller base for the centre forward in effect). The teams are those in the final full size version - i.e. white and blue (like England) and red and blue (like Spain).
Spanish game retailer "We Are Games" has a rather nice official Real Madrid version of this five-a-side set.
Team Range (1993-94).
Like all good table top football games, Pro Action Football had a go at a proper boxed team range. These extra teams were produced for the Parker version of Pro-Action football, right at the start of its production, and were sold in attractive display boxes. It is important to note that these extra teams included the playing figures, but not the bases. So you needed a full boxed edition to make use of them. A sheet in the box set advertised the teams that were originally available, which were as follows. These team pictures sometimes feature on the backs of the team boxes but they are not on every box.
With Holland scanned in at the top of this section, here are all the other international sides scanned in for you to enjoy. Greece have the simplest kit in the range, being all blue with white sock tops (which makes them useful for other sides too).
March 2022: A number of sealed copies of the unpainted Pro Action team have been passing through ebay in the last year or so (from several different sellers). This has allowed me to acquire one, and scan it for the website (I've owned two home-painted sets for a long number of years). I've scanned in the whole box, to show an alternate layout to the plastic inner - note that a (red harlequin) ball has taken the place of one of the visible players.
In addition, there was a second set of English Premier League teams produced, which sadly do not appear to be properly catalogued anywhere. Some of these teams still have the advert for the international teams on the back of the box, but most have only text.
So far, I have only seen six different teams, but I imagine there must be more.
The Liverpool, with Adidas side flashes which look like claw marks is shown at the top of this section. The other teams are illustrated here. The national sides had an eight team range, and I hope the club range would be of a similar size. Leeds United were champions in 1992. Surely they exist?
The Spanish/Mystery Teams......
As mentioned under the Barcelona box set, there is rumoured to be a Spanish range of Pro-Action teams, and there may be others. One of my regular Subbuteo helpers of the early years told me that he had seen a few Italian Pro-Action teams in a discount "catalogue surplus" shop in Scotland. I visited the same shops in the south of England, to no effect. Recently, an unopened "mystery" team appeared on ebay - it had no name sticker on it at all, and clearly never had one. It is a distinctive blue and white affair, with a cross-pattern and is a typically 1990s mish-mash of trim.
March 2022: A second unopened, unlabeled team has started to appear on ebay. This one is a more straightforward kit, being a red and white striped shirt, with black shorts and red socks (the equivalent of a Subbuteo reference 9). If this is part of a Spanish range, it would be Athletic Bilbao. Of course, it could have been designed for the English range as a Sunderland, Southampton, or Sheffield United.
On a second-hand Spanish website was another 1990s team with excess trim - that looks distinctly like a Real Madrid side (unless it is Leeds United!). Clearly, there is more to discover here.
MY Soccer World Football Games.
A cheap "made in China" version of Striker, with a card pitch, and a ball that isn't round. Despite the cheapness, the figures were actually nicely detailed, and had printed details.
The Penalty shoot out version (originally priced at a bargain £1.99) featured one player from each side, a goalkeeper, a scoreboard and a tiny trophy, but I've also seen a full eleven-a-side version (otherwise I wouldn't have bothered to include it). Obviously, the problem with a card pitch is that a standard round ball would just roll off. So the solution here is that the ball isn't round!
This is not to be confused with the other Soccer World game, which had static players on springs, involved bouncing a ball-bearing around a wobbly plastic pitch, and was immensely stupid.
Zoom Sport Football Game.
Plan your tactics, flick, spin and move your players then... shoot to score!
I've reproduced the blurb from the front of the box because it shows such a big Subbuteo influence. The game is a five-a-side junior affair, with players who look like giant lego figures. The outfield bases have a rolling action, so the play is nearer Subbuteo than Super Striker. Thanks to Matt Johnstone for the pictures, and to his kids for modelling the set :-)
Nestlé Euro 2004 players.
Various football figures have found their way into cereal packets down the years, and several ropey action versions have appeared with some form of kicking leg action. However, these guys are a cut above the norm. There were three different outfielders in eight different colour schemes. As usual nowadays, these went the "unofficial" route but kits similar to Portugal, Spain and England were all produced. In addition there was also a goalkeeper figure in a yellow or green jersey, making twenty-four variations to look for. That's a lot of Shreddies I can tell you.
Okay, so this is not a full game or anything, but I thought I'd give these guys a mention as they really do play quite a useful game using Striker equipment.
Sadly someone decided that figures in cereal packets were a choking hazard, and they've dried up. Honestly, I have to buy cereals I actually enjoy eating these days rather than the ones with the best gifts. No wonder Wheatos have disappeared from the shelves...
If you want breakfast cereal freebie nostalgia, that has a similar homemade fan site to this one. Check out the breakfast cereal offers website.
Sports*Stars Football (2012-14?)
"Pass, Dribble and Shoot by flicking your players, don't miss the ball though or you'll be on the defensive. Full rules for Throw-ins, Free Kicks and Fouls inside. Tabletop Football for 2012!"
In the modern age of console games, and mobile phone addictions, it is often assumed that there is no place for a table soccer game in the market. The rise of board gaming as an adult hobby (as well as the Dungeons and Dragons revival) might suggest something different. However, when it comes to getting children involved, Sports*Star Football is, perhaps, another example of a heroic failure, and that means it is something that might put off the larger toy manufacturers from attempting any sort of useful product launch.
Sport*Stars Football was produced by Character Options, a smaller UK company that still owns the Doctor Who toy licence. On paper the game must have looked like a winner. It featured famous football teams in a Lego compatible product, along with packs of collectable players similar to the ever popular Lego mini-figures. These were produced in licensed home and away kits. All this and a playable game to boot, where you flick to kick! It is the same thing that Hasbro were attempting with their photo-real game just a few years earlier. As a toy company, you just need that collectable to take off...
Yet somehow it didn't catch on. We can nit-pick as to why this was. The player likenesses are not particularly good. They have a long-faced caricature which will often leave you scratching your head as to who they meant to be (any ideas on the guys in the photo?). Luckily, the names are on the backs of the shirts. The pitch is a smooth plastic surface, so the ball can't be round (so it is shaped like a Tipp-Kick ball). The play set (illustrated) only came with three players, which is just plain silly. The alternative was "collect and build" sets that had two pitch sections and two outfield players (you'd need six sets for a pitch). If you went that route you still had to buy a goals/goalkeeper set (sharp eyed visitors will note the lack of a proper goalkeeper in the above picture - I don't own one). You could also argue that "Lego Compatible" is never going to be real Lego, and no other manufacturer's mini-figures ever quite measure up (although these are one of the better alternatives).
The original sets had players from just four licensed teams - Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal. Manchester United and England sets were added later. There were away kits distributed within the sets, and the game lasted long enough for kit changes to exist. I do own a generic player among my spares, so perhaps these sets were also issued (for supporters of other clubs?) I think the England team was actually issued as a box set, so that was one way to get a full team. Was there any other national sides for them to play though?*
In the final analysis, all this effort produced a rather basic flicking game. The bases are big, flat and basic. The ball is rather small. The smooth pitch is actually essential to allow the large bases to slide, otherwise the players would be top-heavy. With the smooth pitch, tiny goals, and no chipping, it actually feels more like a Table Ice Hockey game. It just needs a puck.
Lego themselves have had a go at producing a full football game using their minifigures, but sadly they were attached to the pitch, and that means the game doesn't meet my coverage criteria (What? This page of tat has criteria?). More to my liking are the Playmobil sets which feature kicking footballers in a Striker format. These figures were also sold separately in unofficial World Cup colours.
*Character Options did produce both Doctor Who and British Army sets using essentially the same Lego compatible figures, but these didn't have a long shelf life either. There was a Doctor Who set that featured the (then current) eleven incarnations of the Doctor. The bases are compatible, so that would give you a rather surreal looking team for your England to face up against...
I'm sure there must be more decent football games out there. I probably own a few more than this! So watch this space for more games.
[ Main Page | Previous Page ]