Battle of the indoor football games


The unending lockdown has driven many dads to the attic to dig out their childhood games in an effort to get their kids off the computer. A popular find has been Subbuteo, a table football game involving plastic players on bases being flicked to kick plastic balls past plastic keepers into a plastic goal. Football wasn’t the only game that Subbuteo experimented with – there was also rugby, cricket, hockey, and most surprisingly fishing, which involved no water, fish, or rods but was advertised as being close to the real thing. But it is only the football game that has survived, and I have been playing it for some months. I also play FIFA, and this made me think about which of the two is the more authentic football experience.

Unlike FIFA, which comes out with a new edition every year, Subbuteo is reassuringly stuck somewhere in the 1970s. You can tell this from the accessories, which include a television gantry of the type that hasn’t been seen in an all-seater stadium or anywhere above the National League South for about 40 years.  There is something about a genuine ball hitting the back of a real net that you can’t reproduce on a computer. And when your keeper on a stick makes a fingertip save, it is far more satisfying than the on-screen equivalent. You are not invited to upgrade every year, though you may have to buy replacements for broken players.

FIFA is proud of being up to date, taking into account summer transfers and the latest strips, there also a commentary and crowd noise that is also used for premier league broadcasts. It is also more realistic in that the players look like footballers and aren’t stuck to a plastic base. There are injuries in FIFA, but none as dramatic as a random hand or foot snapping a player off their base, which is usually solved by the application of superglue rather than a warning from the ref. And defenders can mark up in FIFA, unlike their Subbuteo equivalent who are rooted to the spot as the forwards' dribble around them (having watched Premier League defending this season it is not clear which is the more true to life).

Your team’s fate is far more in your hands with Subbuteo, and smacking the ball through a wall of defenders past the keeper brings more of a thrill than any number of clever FIFA free kicks. On the other hand, there are no slow-motion replays, so you can’t share your best moments, you can’t play with anyone outside your household at present, and the lack of a referee or VAR means that added time is generally needed to make up for the arguments between the players. I will continue playing both.