Advancements in the gaming industry continue to astound year on year. As it strives ever more to achieve absolute realism, we the consumers can play the latest incarnation of FIFA and control what intuitively feels like an actual game of football.
It’s all there on the screen. The movement, made lifelike down to the finest detail. The player’s facial expressions, honed to perfection from exhaustive research and a million pixels.
These days, it is a sport in and of itself and that would never have happened with good old Sensible Soccer, clunky and basic as it was.
For those seeking a more cerebral whiling away of many hours there is Football Manager too of course, a game so immersive and intricately mapped out that devotees find themselves worrying about a left-back’s dietary habits when shopping in Asda, or how their team might possibly subvert the football odds when facing AEK Athens in the Europa League.
Blurring the boundaries between escapism and real life it is said to have been the root cause of divorces. For Will Still, head coach of Ligue 1 side Reims, playing the game as a student led to a dramatic change of career path.
In so many ways, and on so many levels, both of these technological achievements are nothing short of remarkable. There is an awful lot to admire, and for millions across the globe, there is an awful lot to love.
Why is it then that I increasingly find myself yearning for some attic space, 127 cm x 86cm of synthetic green cotton, and 22 plastic figures weighed down by small domed bases?
Why do I regularly find myself exploring eBay late into the night for Subbuteo teams of yesteryear? A Tampa Bay Rowdies XI in mint condition.
A mid-Eighties Aston Villa side available on the cheap because one of the outfield players has been stepped on and his feet are now a splotch of dried glue.
Why am I falling into devotion all over again with a tabletop game that is wonderfully/painfully archaic when compared to today’s footballing pastimes?
Nostalgia, that’s why and obviously so. The solace found in a more innocent – and very possibly, happier – past that the American diplomat George Ball once insisted is a ‘seductive liar’.
He was wrong about that.
He was wrong because I vividly recall what it felt like to open up a sizable rectangular box one Christmas morning to unveil a world of possibilities made up of a glorified blanket, two teams – one painted generic blue, the other generic red – some goals, and a ball the size of a thumbnail.
An adventure had begun, one that only necessitated that I flick to kick.
In due course, accessories were added. A TV tower complete with a tiny plastic cameraman. A stand that meant you had to lean awkwardly over it should the ball be close to that touchline. At some juncture a replica World Cup was purchased, no more than six inches high.
And from all this a league was formed, involving the kids on my estate. Naturally enough all of the fixtures were held at the lad among us who had the richest parents, their house having a spare room downstairs that became our stadium.
Every minute we weren’t outside playing football was spent in there, the games competitive and fierce. On one occasion the rich kid lost and stamped on each of his players.
The rules to Subbuteo are very simple. A player maintains possession, flicking his figures at the ball, until he or she either misses, or the ball hits an opponent. No figure can touch the ball more than three times in a row.
Except we paid no heed to these rules, making our own up and I only wish I could recall them now. All I remember is you could shoot from anywhere and when facing shots, goalies were rattled like crazy against each goalpost at a rate of knots.
It is an embarrassing admission that had there been sports betting on our league, I would have been a rank outsider, friends being much better at the game than me, but I somehow managed to win the league once, solemnly handed the replica World Cup to hold aloft and keep for a while.
Just a week or two earlier, I had bought with my birthday money a new team from a toy shop in town. It was chosen at random, or maybe I liked the green and yellow on the arms. It was the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
I still attribute my treasured and rare childhood moment of glory to that kit.
And again, debunking George Ball’s depiction of nostalgia being deceptive, another memory comes back to me now. Of waking up in the middle of the night and seeing that miniature World Cup proudly displayed on a shelf.
No word of a lie, I descended back to sleep feeling like a champion.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*