Subbuteo is a set of board games simulating team sports but is most closely associated with the football game, which for many years was marketed as 'the replica of Association Football'. The 'Subbuteo' name is derived from the Latin Falco subbuteo, a bird of prey commonly known as the Eurasian Hobby, after a trademark was not granted to its creator Peter Adolph to call the game The Hobby.
The availability of Subbuteo was first announced in the August 1946 edition of The Boy's Own Paper. The advert was vague and didn't provide any detail about what was actually on offer. The same month Peter Adolph lodged a patent application for the game. Once orders started to pour in Adolph set about converting his patent idea into a deliverable product.
The first Subbuteo sets consisted of goals made with wire and paper nets, a cellulose acetate ball, cardboard playing figures in two basic kits (red shirts with white shorts, and blue shirts with white shorts) and bases made from buttons weighed down with lead washers. No pitch was provided: instead, the purchaser was given instructions on how to mark out (with chalk, provided) a playing area onto a blanket (an old army blanket was recommended). The first sets were eventually available about 6 months after the original advertisement appeared. An early innovation was to replace the early cardboard figures with a 2-D celluloid figure, known to collectors as 'flats'.
Early production of Subbuteo was centred near Tunbridge Wells, in Kent. The early years of subbuteo were marked by fierce rivalry with 'Newfooty', a similar game that had been invented in the late 1920s by William Keeling of Liverpool. As a means of differentiating his product, in 1961 Adolph introduced a three dimensional handpainted plastic figure into the range. After several design modifications, this figure evolved by 1967 into the classic 'heavyweight' figure.
There were several further evolutions of figure design. In 1978 the 'zombie' figure was introduced to facilitate the machine painting of figures. After much negative feedback, the zombie figure was replaced in 1980 by the 'lightweight' figure that continued until the 1990s.