ABOVE: 00 Scale kicking figure
The original version of subbuteo rugby first saw the light of day during the 1950s. It was a very different game to that which developed in the late 1960s, with the players represented by round, flat disks which were rolled along in order to travel up the field. Kicking was performed by a flat celluloid figure (see left) with a wire ring on the base, a bit like the bowler in subbuteo cricket. By placing the ball in the wire ring, and sharply striking the head of the playing figure, the ball would be flipped into the air and, with any luck, over the crossbar and through the goals. The game was a very poor representation of both rugby codes, and after failing to attract much interest it was quietly removed from circulation.
ABOVE: Kicking wedge
Subbuteo rugby resurfaced in 1968 in an entirely new form. The playing figures and bases were like those used in soccer, only chunkier, and the kicking elements of the game had undergone an overhaul as well. Penalties and conversions were now taken using a specialist “live action” kicking figure which dwarfed all the other playing figures used in the game. Within a few years a kicking wedge had also been introduced to be used when kicking off or attempting drop goals. There was also a scrumming device in the shape of a rugby ball, but the pitch was a work of fantasy, bearing only scant resemblance to the pitches used in either code of rugby. The rules were also extremely slipshod, and left a lot open to interpretation. Nevertheless, the game sold in reasonable quantities, and remained in production until 1981, by which time a seven-a-side version was also on the market. A total of fifty-seven different teams were produced, from both rugby codes, and there were also numerous accessories such as a scoreboard, touch flags, fencing and referees.
ABOVE: Chunky rugby playing figure
Despite not being commercially produced for more than thirty years subbuteo rugby still boasts a fair number of adherents, although most would be better described as collectors rather than active players. As a point of interest, one of the first ever matches played under the auspices of the Lincoln Flickers was a subbuteo rugby match, with John Devaney’s Argentina overcoming Mick Brien’s Ireland by 5 points to 3.
If you think you might like to take part in a subbuteo rugby tournament please don’t hesitate to let me know. Please also mention whether you’d prefer to play union or league, the rules of which needless to say differ in quite a few ways.
ABOVE: The original subbuteo rugby kicker
It may interest and surprise some of you to learn that were all set to stage such a competition, with half a dozen entrants, in 2012, but we were forced to pull the plug at the eleventh hour owing to The Morning Star becoming unavailable. There are a number of people within easy travelling distance of Lincoln who don’t play subbuteo football but enjoy the odd game of subbuteo rugby, so conducting a tournament at either The Eastgate or The Star might be surprisingly feasible.