The following is an extract from Ger McCarthy’s book ‘Off Centre Circle’ about a life growing up dreaming, playing and eventually reitiring from football. This chapter deals with the author’s fascination with Subbutteo.

 “About a week ago I bought Nintendo Wii FIFA 08 for me and my son to play. It’s a brilliant game. I’ve bought a few computer football games in my time, but I’ve never played them like I used to play Subbuteo.”
David Baddiel (writer and comedian) from the book Teenage Flicks: Memories of the Sub-beautiful Game by Paul Willetts

In the late 1980’s I co-founded and helped the first Clonakilty Subbuteo league get off the ground. Subbuteo was, simply put, table football.

Eleven mini-plastic figurines of players in kits and team strips from every corner of the world were flicked around a felt pitch using your index finger. The players, complete with semi-spherical bases, were moved forward at mini-footballs around a green felt pitch with two plastic goals at either end.

Goalkeeper figurines were different in that they had a stick attached to the back of their base allowing them to move left or right to try and save any shots. There was even a rule book to govern the correct approach to playing the game:

“Flicking of Figures: Only the nail part of the forefinger or index finger shall be used to strike the base of the team figure. It is not allowed to flick any other part of the figure apart from the base.”


A Christmas television advertising campaign depicting two young boys playing Subbuteo with a full range of accessories caught the imagination of all the youths in the West Cork area in the late 1980’s.

The advert contained a stadium, floodlights and even an electronic scoreboard. This meant there would have to be yet another soccer related item on the McCarthy Christmas wish list.

The Subbuteo World Cup Box-Set Edition duly arrived on the morning of December 25th. The box-set displayed Brazilian international Zico curling a free kick over an Italian defensive wall from the 1982 World Cup in Spain. The box-set contained a scoreboard (not electronic though),  a surrounding fence for the felt pitch, the Mexican and Italian national teams as well as two tango world cup footballs.

I remember the excitement of trying to open my new Subbuteo set of teams and struggling to put the goals and fences together in a rush to begin flicking. One important point my brother and I had failed to consider before asking Santa for the Subbuteo set was the fact we didn’t have a hard surface big enough to attach the felt pitch to.

This meant curling up the four corners of the playing surface to accommodate the rest of our family and allow them to shuffle in and out of the living room on Christmas day. It quickly became apparent over the holiday period that many of my friends were also lucky enough to receive similar box-sets as Christmas presents.

It was decided at a hastily convened meeting to organise a local Subbuteo League and Cup competition.

I went on to claim a league and cup double in the inaugural season thanks to the many hours of practice on my home pitch ‘White Hot Lane’ which doubled as the mat in front of our living room fireplace.

The Subbuteo table football game provided countless hours of fun and enjoyment including travelling to away game at friend’s houses and Cup finals with crowds of up to ten to fifteen fans.

There were plenty of arguments in the opening Clonakilty Subbuteo season as individuals struggled to stick to the strict guidelines set out in the official rule-book. Appointed referees had a tough time judging what was a ‘push’ and what was a ‘flick’.

Another annoying tactic used by players in the inaugural season was to grab their goalkeeper (who unlike all the other figures had a long piece of plastic sticking out of his back) and throw the goal to one side just before his opponent was about to shoot for goal. Cue instant arguments and a penalty-flick being awarded to the attacking player.

Judging whether the goalkeeper moved before the penalty-flick had been taken resulted in volleys of abusive verbal’s between the two participants. Use of bad language and trying to put your opponent off became something of an art form:

Player1: “Ref he pushed that. No way was that a flick.”

Ref: “Play on.”

Player2:”Ah shut up will ya and get on with the game (lightly flicks a defending Subbuteo player with his baby finger.”

Player1: “REF? That’s a free-flick. For feck sake he can’t do that!”

Ref: “Play on.”


Player2: “Looks like your defenders are asleep today ha-ha I’m clean through on goal now sure.”

Player1: “Shut your hole. Go on take your best shot. You’ll miss anyway if you shoot like you do in training.”

 Player2: “This will be as easy as score as your sister.”

 Player1: “TAKE THAT BACK… Ref make him take that back.”

 Ref: “Play on.”


(Player2 shoots while Player1 remonstrates with the referee and scores).

 Ref: “Goal.”

 Player1: “WHAT? How can you allow that after what he said about my sister ya tool? (throws players, pitch and glass of water off the table in disgust).”

 Ref: “Game abandoned.”


The game of Subbuteo has evolved since its humble beginnings and you can now purchase playing pitches complete with crowd sound effects and even transferable faces of famous footballers. The McCarthy collection of Subbuteo teams grew over the years and thanks to the use of tipex my brother Aidan and I were able to doctor the Italian team to look like Blackburn, the Mexican team to look like Celtic and the Arsenal team to look like Charlton. (What Spurs fan would want an Arsenal Subbuteo team?)

Sellotape was also an essential item in any Subbuteo player’s kit bag. Years of wear and tear would result in arms and legs of the figurines cracking off. Even our dog would take to grinding its teeth on the heads of some unfortunate players which resulted in a small ball of sellotape replacing the skull of Argentina’s striker. He looked more like the Elephant man than Diego Maradonna but could still flick a decent shot at goal whenever called upon.

Nowadays children seem to spend more and more time playing computer-simulated soccer games offering realistic like movements of players and include crowd reactions and commentary. When we played Subbuteo my friends and I had to use our imagination and provide commentary and crowd effects as we went along.

It certainly provided a lot more laughs than sitting on a couch for five hours transfixed at a TV screen and moving only your thumbs.

Sometimes less is more.





Matchday – An extract from Off Centre Circle

The following is an extract from Chapter 2 of my book ‘Off Centre Circle’ published a few years ago focusing on what preperation was like for a typical junior soccer match held deep in the heart of West Cork, Ireland – Ger McCarthy

off centre circle


“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard for all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.” – George Orwell, Collected Essays.

Our opponent’s playing pitch is lined half an hour before kick off by one of the club’s loyal stalwarts. The side-lines may not be straight but it matters little as each appointed ‘linesman’ or assistant referee (usually the manager of the opposing team) will put his arm up for a throw-in once the ball comes within two metres of the meandering line-markings anyway.

Cue volleys of verbal abuse and wild gesticulating arrowing across from one side of the pitch to the other in demand of a throw-in. Worse still, an invitation to settle differences of opinion outside the gate afterwards are made clear after only a few minutes of action.

–          “Era if ye are going to be that way about calling the throw-ins like, we might as well go home ye shower of bastards”.

–          “Go way back up the mountains you culchie shower of shaggers. Ye are only here for the free sandwiches anyway”.

A handful of lime is dropped roughly twelve yards from each goal to mark the penalty spot prior to kick off. Each of these allotted spots disappear within five minutes as both sets of defenders hack anything that resembles a football out of the penalty area which can also include the opposing striker’s left leg and the circle of grass that surrounded it. The six yard box is crooked and varies in width to the one at the opposite end of the ground.

We are barely halfway through the season and whatever remaining grass is present on the playing field has become worn and patchy. The mixture of lime and water dumped erratically on the sidelines has vanished by the half time break courtesy of a series of heavy showers. There must be a hundred cowpats dotted around the playing surface. My first steps onto the pitch result in a loud squelching noises and when I look down my worn Puma boots have a new brown streak from heel to toe.

Within a quarter of an hour, the majority of the playing surface becomes a muddy quagmire. The nets held together with multicoloured twine, string and even bits of tape in places. The corner flags hammered into the ground at each of the four right angles of the playing field but many still manage to topple over long before the final whistle.

Local rabbits have continued their guerrilla tactics of burrowing through the bottom of the nets and its all hands on deck to make sure the netting is properly fastened. Just as well there is a large rusted iron bar and a selection of building blocks and stones only a few feet behind the goal line to keep the nets from blowing away.

The facilities may be paltry; the pitch in dreadful condition, the weather atrocious, but it is the pure and simple love of the game of soccer that drives players and club officers to have everything in readiness to the best of their ability. It’s for the sake of their local club, players and few supporters that Sunday’s match preparations are carried out as diligently as possible so games like today’s can go ahead without a hitch.

My knees are turning blue with the cold as I stand impatiently at the side of the road with my arms crossed along with the younger members of the squad. Players huddle together, shivering with only a t-shirt, 1970’s-styled shorts, socks, shin-pads and football boots caked in shite. The manager calls out the team and jerseys recklessly thrown around. This is the only part of our regular match day routine I that I dread. Trying to break into a senior (junior) soccer team is difficult enough when the squad contains so many talented individuals.

As a graduate of the Under18 youths squad the biggest obstacle in breaking into the first eleven is lack of physique. Playing West Cork Junior soccer requires a certain amount of skill but the ability to stand up for yourself when the crazy two footed lunges start flying in is much more important. The majority of opposing teams regularly made up of six-foot giants and sturdy GAA players with tree-trunks for legs. Youth team graduates learn quickly that the first couple of years playing soccer at this level is as much about avoiding injury as it is about trying to play attractive football.

I’m handed the number thirteen one (as usual) and borrow someone’s hoodie to help keep the biting wind at bay whilst idling on the sideline. The manager gathers the team in close together to issue his final instructions before we cross the white line and commence 90 minutes of battle. What our coach lacks in tactical knowledge he more than makes up for in the diligent preparation of his squad. Everything we do in training has a purpose and this Clon side must be the fittest soccer team to play in the West Cork league for years.

–     (Manager) “Lads. For f*ck sake we just can’t lose to this shower alright? Looks just keep things simple. Find the forwards as early as you can and for f*ck’s sake NO MOUTHING TO THE REFEREE”. (The manager himself forgets this instruction and is promptly warned about his conduct with barely 2 minutes on the clock).

–          (Team) “ COME ON TO F*CK!!!”

–          (Manager) “Remember as well lads alright that if you are going to get sent off make sure he is carried off! Straight from the word go now. COME ON! DO YE WANT TO WIN THIS F*CKIN’ THING OR WHA?”

–          (Team) “ COME ON TO F*CK!!!”

–          (Manager) “Lads we need to make sure EVERYONE is serious about this now from the word go, alright?”

–          (Player who had too much to drink the night before ) BURP! Cue laughter all round

–          (Manager) “Ah for f*ck sake just get out there and lay into them will ye”