Richard Brook reveals an unusual artform that flicks to kick.
In 1991, when I was ten, the accepted way for football fans to record their special football memories was to keep a scrapbook of pictures and clippings from newspapers and magazines. You recreated these treasured moments on the Subbuteo pitch. Somewhere over the last 22 years the distinction between these two, footballing pastimes became blurred, at least in the mind of Aston Villa fan Terry Lee.
Terry has an unusual – indeed unique to my knowledge – business. Terry records some of the most memorable moments of football history by way of painstakingly accurate, handcrafted, bespoke Subbuteo figures. I stumbled upon Terry’s wonderful website Subbuteo Art quite by chance, while looking for a spare set of football’s for the re-launched table-top football game. I play it with my children but make no apology for the fact the game is mine, a requested birthday present from just last year.
The website itself is, to all intents and purposes, a blog. It is a blog to behold however as you quickly become immersed in sea of images of the stunning figures that Terry has created. Terry branched out into single, artistically posed figures in July 2012, having previously painted functional Subbuteo teams to order, for enthusiasts. Initially the single figure pieces were the individual components of a ‘Legends XI’ that Terry created featuring the likes of Pele, Maradona and Bobby Moore.
If you have ever wondered where Subbuteo players go when they die, Terry’s individual figures are in fact an act of recycling – as a collector of all things Subbuteo Terry estimates the number of broken figures he has, as being in the hundreds. Each of these is a blank canvas ready to be cut, glued and sanded into the desired position, before any bespoke hair cut is created from a special clay and the player is patiently painted.
Terry’s favourites come as no surprise, to anyone who has looked through his blog – the glorious recreation of Gazza’s famous ‘Dentist’s Chair’ celebration from the England’s Euro 96 encounter with Scotland is one Terry picks out, understandably proud at getting the four participants on one Subbuteo base. Another choice pick is the stunning replication of, Columbian goalkeeper, Rene Higuita’s astonishing “Scorpion Kick” goal-line clearance against England.
At the time I happened upon Subbuteo Art I was on the look-out for a present for my football mad mum. With both of us ardent Sheffield Wednesday supporters there seemed one logical choice. On April 21st 1991 a, briefly, second tier Owls side won the League Cup, against Manchester United, at Wembley. Indeed Wednesday are still the last non-top-flight side to win a major trophy. It is from the television commentary for this final that my own 4 Minutes Of Time Added On blog – at www.rjb81media.co.uk – takes its name. The game was won by a single goal; United headed an in swinging Nigel Worthington free-kick from the right half clear. John Sheridan met the ball, just outside the box, with a crisp-half volley. The ball was palmed against the inside of the post, but could not be kept out. Wednesday held strong to win their only major trophy since 1935.
The iconic photograph of the greatest day, in mine and my mum’s, time supporting Wednesday was taken after the match. The image is of Sheridan stood alone, with a Wednesday hat on and the cup raised high above his head. It is this image that I asked Terry to create for me in Subbuteo form.
I decided that I wanted three identical copies of this figure – one for Mum, one for me and one other. The third I had decided I wanted to give to John Sheridan himself, to say thank you the single happiest football related memory of my life. Surely had he known someone was having a bespoke piece of art to commemorate the day he would like a copy, and besides he was managing Chesterfield, which would not be far out of my way when travelling to Wednesday’s home games.
Needless to say when Terry’s beautifully crafted figures arrived – complete with Asda sponsored shirts, as only happened for that match, Sheridan had parted company with Chesterfield. I waited patiently to learn of Sheridan’s next managerial appointment. Sheridan eventually took over the reins at Plymouth Argyle, not quite so close to either Sheffield, or my midlands home, as I had hoped. I held on to the figure for quite a while considering still personally delivering the figure – not least because I had promised Terry that I would try to get a picture of Sheridan with the figure, for Terry’s blog.
In the end I had to give in to the constraints of money and time, and admit that I would have to post the figure. Before doing so I emailed Plymouth and received the first of many swift and helpful replies, from Sheridan’s Personal Assistant, Sue, who agreed to email a photo of Sheridan with the figure. So I posted the figure off to John Sheridan care of Sue. In due course I received the promised photograph for Terry, and a message that Sheridan’s thoughts on the figure were: “Brilliant!”
Mine might not be the oddest request for a figure, that dubious honour goes to a request for Henrik Larsson with his tongue sticking out – an impossible request due to the 1/100th scale of the figures – but it might just rank amongst the weirder back stories to a piece in Terry’s time producing these figures. Be warned these figures are addictive both my Mum and I, independently, have other pieces on order.
Terry tells me he is not much good at playing Subbuteo, maybe he and I can play out a 0-0 draw sometime, but he is certainly extremely talented in creating these tiny pieces of beautiful, football nostalgia. Indeed what could be more nostalgic than football history recorded through the unique medium of Subbuteo Art?
Subbuteo Art can be found online: www.subbuteo-art.blogspot.com
Or followed on Twitter: @SubbuteoArt
Or liked on the Facebook page: Subbuteo Art