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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
'My father invented Subbuteo'
By James Clarke
BBC News

Like lots of young boys in the 60s and 70s, Mark Adolph enjoyed playing Subbuteo against his friends.

Mark Adolph with a QPR Subbuteo figure
Mark Adolph is writing a book about his father and his invention

But he never had to save up his pocket money when he wanted a new team to play with.

He just asked his father, who had no trouble getting his hands on a set, having invented the game.

Peter Adolph came up with the idea for the table-top football game in 1947, and it was produced from his home village of Langton Green near Tunbridge Wells until the 1970s.

Since his father's death in 1994, Mark has taken over the mantle of "Mr Subbuteo", fielding queries from fans, requests for interviews and trying to maintain the high profile of the game.

"I'm happy to do it," says Mark, "I can talk all day about it, it's something I love and I'm proud of it."

I thought everybody's dad did similar sorts of things
Mark Adolph

A game very similar to Subbuteo, called NewFooty, was already on the market when Peter Adolph had the idea for a game of his own.

But NewFooty had not been a huge success.

So Mr Adolph Sr created a prototype footballer figure for his game using a button from his mother's coat and a washer.

He placed an advert in the comic Boy's Own, interested to see what response he would get from people - bearing in mind the game had not even been made yet - and went to the US on a business trip.

Mark says: "He got a telegram from his mum saying about 4,000 worth of postal orders had come in from people saying 'please send me the game, it looks fantastic'.

Peter Adolph playing Subbuteo with some boys and some QPR players - thanks to Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery

"He told her to bank them."

The game took off, manufactured in the factory in Langton Green, with the firm employing hundreds of local people.

Many of them worked from home, gluing together the figures or painting them - tricky stripes paid better than plain strips.

By the time Mark was born in 1956 it was well established and he grew up surrounded by Subbuteo.

"I more or less teethed on Subbuteo, there were always figures lying around, I used to stick them in my mouth.

"It was no big deal for me, it was just something that was going on in my life.

"I thought everybody's dad did similar sorts of things."

England winning the World Cup in 1966 made football even more popular and Subbuteo experienced another surge in interest.

Meanwhile Mark would play against his father and friends and even though Subbuteo was in the family he says his games were just like those of any other young boy who liked football.

Chelsea Subbuteo figure from the 1980s
Subbuteo now has its own World Cup and European Championship

"We used to play it eight hours a day all the time, it was like a job, and it got nasty at times.

"We took it really seriously, with league matches and cup matches and for big games we used to pattern the pitch with a clothes brush."

Mark became so good at the game he was banned from his school league, even though his father had donated the equipment.

But there was one person who could still beat him.

"The first time I beat Dad it was so fantastic.

"He used to cheat a lot, but in a friendly way, and when he realised I could beat him he started to up his game, that's when it got really competitive."

Mark laughs as he admits his interest in the game bordered on sad, but is still very fond of the game, which his father sold to major toy firm Waddingtons for 250,000 in 1970.

He is writing a book about his father and Subbuteo, due for publication in the summer of 2006, gives occasional talks on the game and recently worked as a consultant for a Subbuteo exhibition at Tunbridge Wells Museum.

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