From time to time various South Africa team sets have come up for sale on eBay. Often stated as being “rare” and characterised by having darker green caps than the common Australian sets, they stand apart from the TC-A sets because they were never part of the published Subbuteo product range.
From the introduction of the TC-A fielding team sets in 1966/67 to the discontinuation of the range in the mid-80s, price lists and brochures always only list five variants – Standard Blue, Standard Red, England, Australia and the West Indies. The Test Match Edition box set also only ever features two of the latter three teams.
So are the South Africa sets offered for sale genuine and rare Subbuteo pieces, or re-paints? TBH I have never seen any definitive evidence either way – just opinions. So here’s my take …
I did read on one blog that a small run of sets could have been produced by Subbuteo for a specific retailer who had demand for them, which could well be the case.
Peter Upton has told me that he first saw a South African badged set for sale via the SubbuteoWorld website as far back as 2001-03, in the early days of online collecting before “rare” claims, he felt, had really started. The labelling suggested to him it could be from the late 1960s or early 70s. The cap colour matched that he’s seen subsequently from another collector.
Its perfectly possible that some sets were made in the earlier days of the game.
However, given that for most of the life of Subbuteo Cricket South Africa were banned from playing test cricket and did not tour here, it feels unlikely to me that a South African set would be so produced but not an Indian or Pakistan one. Both of those teams had large, dedicated followings in the UK and toured regularly.
There are examples of Australian sets that were painted with a darker green than usual caps, presumablywhen stock was needed and the usual shade not available. You can find these occasionally – there’s a picture on the Australia page. It may be that sets of these that didn’t had labels still attached were mistaken for South Africa sets?
Peter Adolph was famously happy to advertise products he hadn’t yet produced to see if there was a demand before committing to manufacture. Given that Subbuteo was built on getting us to buy lots of teams and accessories it seems unlikely to me that the company had stock of this new team and never promoted it at all.
The fact that sets have been advertised in both original and the relaunched box styles would suggest production over an extended period of time, but only an occasional “rare” version appears to come up for sale.
So, for what it’s worth, my guess is that most (if not all) of the sets purporting to be TC-A South Africa are not genuine Subbuteo pieces. At best they are the Australian sets that were painted with a darker green. Most probably they are re-paints by players wanting a full set of test nations – and why not? I bought my set assuming that’s exactly what it is, but having no way of telling for sure.
Sadly, occasionally I think its an eBay seller thinking they can push up their margins for the cost of a little green paint. Caveat emptor.