The history of the game

Having filed his first patent and started advertising his first Subbuteo Table Soccer sets in 1946, Peter Adolph introduced his second sport to the range, Table Cricket, in early 1949.

Originally with figures made of paper card – along the lines of the standard thin, flat bowler that appeared in all boxed sets – the playing pieces were supplied ready to be cut out and inserted into their bases. Also included were balls, wickets, back-stops and rules, all in a box about the size of the 70s football team boxes.

I was lucky enough to come across a set I believe to be from the very early stages of production. The owner dated his first match in the scorebook (between Middlesex and Worcestershire) Sunday 31st July 1949. A check in Wisden revealed that the game actually did take place a few days before, so I’m guessing he was taken to the game and re-created it with his new cricket set the following week.

The card is surprisingly firm and the players very similar in design to the flat footballers that were already taking-off. Not surprisingly the balls are very light, hollow plastic – quite difficult to get much pace off the wicket but great for the kind of floated military medium bowling that was my own speciality in the real-life game!

A celluloid version soon followed with a small range of accessories.

As Subbuteo took off in the run up to the 1966 Football World Cup, 00 scale plastic figures replaced the card and celluloid players and cricket relaunched with two boxed sets and a range of accessories. Replaced, that is, except for the bowler, who, for no reason I’ve ever understood, remained the celluloid flat figure for the rest of the game’s history.

In 1966/7 the range consisted of Display and Club sets plus 13 accessories. By 1968/9 season the Test Match Edition had joined the range along with the four new accessories it included, spectators, groundsmen, scoreboard and sight screens. Fencing then joined the following year when the range was at its peak.

Despite the investment in promotion in its own right, within the range brochures and through advertising, cricket’s sales did not take off in the way other products did. Arguably the lack of teams meant it had a natural disadvantage v. football and rugby. Those two games shared more common parts, reducing costs doubtless, whereas most cricket pieces were unique and probably lower margin.

According to figures in Daniel Tatarsky’s book Flick to Kick, in 1975/6 cricket was achieving less then 10% of football’s revenue, and was behind rugby. In 1976 the range’s unique fencing set was dropped and the following year three further products were axed from the accessories range. No new lines were ever added but the range continued through into the 80s.

The decision to drop the mainstay Club box set, and replace it with the far more expensive Floodlighting Edition in 1981 probably heralded the beginning of the end for the cricket range.

The concept of the Floodlighting Edition was flawed in that the other teams you may have already had didn’t have black pads etc, so didn’t really fit the idea.

And of course the two floodlights were utterly useless in trying to actually play a floodlit game!

Despite prototypes for coloured clothing being produced two years after the Floodlighting launch owners Waddingtons axed the whole range and cricket disappeared from Subbuteo catalogues.

The game has not died though. Far from it. There’s now a wide range of collectors’ and players’ social media groups, solo-play and regular leagues and competitions, plus more and more new teams and accessories available to buy.

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