“Get Warmed Up, Mick!”

As I disclosed in yesterday’s prose Skimming the Surface, I learned many useful life lessons as a child growing up in Low Fell, Gateshead. Amongst these tutorial gems were, when partaking in the controversy laden world of table football games, my brother Ian was a right flaming cheat.

Our kid will no doubt have his own version of events, however no one will ever convince me he flicked the small plastic footballer towards the giant football. This flicking edict clearly stipulated within the rules of the game, as laid down by God to Moses on stone tablets upon Mount Sinai.

Like the UK’s prevailing Tory government, though, my rebellious younger sibling felt adherence to rules was an inconvenience for others to suffer – Such directives not applying to him. Consequently, Ian chose the easier and more directionally accurate option of shuffling the mini footballer ball ward by utilising the outside of his index finger.

For the uninitiated, a Subbuteo game included a 3ft x 2ft green baize pitch, 20 tiny plastic players perched on self-righting disc shaped bases, two stretching goalkeepers movable from attached plastic batons. Not forgetting a giant football whose circumference dwarfed on field protagonists.

Additionally, if you were that way inclined, to enhance the realism of the match there was also a multitude of pitch side extras available to augment verisimilitude. Supplies such as venue stands, terracing, a scoreboard and a mini sheepskin coat clad match reporter.

This table top diversion was a game possessed by most lads between the ages of 7-12 in the 1970s. My brother, friends and I spent numerous happy hours flicking/shuffling players around the green baize pitch in an attempt to recreate the previous weekends real life footy action.

These highly competitive matches a gladiatorial homage to our footballing heroes. Amongst them Leeds United’s Allan Clarke, Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer; or Malcolm MacDonald and Billy Hughes if the clambakes participants were Newcastle United or Sunderland supporting friends.

As a (admitted lukewarm) tribute to Leeds’ perennial substitute Mick Bates, occasionally we’d even perch an Action Man at the side on a makeshift bench of stacked Shoot football annuals. It wasn’t overly realistic, after all in real life Bates wasn’t twenty times bigger than the rest of his white stripped colleagues. However, his presence afforded me mid game tension-breaking levity of intermittently ordering “Get warmed up, Mick!” to the giant substitute on the sidelines.

mick bates
Leeds United’s Mick Bates, in the days he had a look of Jimmy Greenhoff!

To add further ‘realism’ to our games, I developed a way of making football crowd noises. These voice thrown chants learned from early 1970’s boyhood day’s when Elland Road in situ. Clearly, to avoid a maternal rollocking yours truly avoided the ruder chants emanating from Tetley bitter breathed mouths of adult Kopites. Along with any tribal refrain whose meaning was lost on me.

In my unwavering desire to replicate the experience of a real football match, if my team (well, me really) was having an off-day, I occasionally throw in cries of “Flipping rubbish, Leeds!…. Get Bates on, Revie!”.

In fact, to be honest, I never shut up throughout a game of Subbuteo. When I wasn’t making crowd noises, or pretending to be an irate fan asking for Mick Bates to replace an off-colour Johnny Giles in midfield, I was commentating.

I couldn’t play this table top soccer game without me nattering the various cliches oft heard emanating from the mouths of legendary 1970’s football commentators David Coleman or Barry Davies. At that time, it would’ve been unthinkable for me not to shout “Clarke, one-nil!” after a typically clinical finish from my striker.

As the players were too small for numbers, I’m not sure how I differentiated between them during commentary. Although some did stand out, such as Peter ‘Lasher’ Lorimer. Hot Shot was easily recognisable as he had glue on his legs; a consequence of the physio (our Ian) hamfistedly sticking the base back to Lorimer’s body after inadvertently kneeling on the Scottish international mid-match.

bremner ball

While Lorimer was off the pitch injured, I contemplated bringing Mick Bates on, but thought the logistics of involving a player that large would’ve diminished the game’s brio levels. After all, have you ever tried to flick an Action Man in the direction of a plastic table top football?!

I’d have probably broken my index finger; which on arrival at the nearby Queen Elizabeth hospital Accident & Emergency unit would’ve no doubt raised a few eyebrows.

In fact, I can imagine my mum’s initial conversation with medical staff now:-

Nurse – “How did your son manage to injury himself, Mrs Strachan?”

My mum (sheepishly) – “Erm…… Trying to flick Mick Bates towards a football, nurse….. Mick was on the field as sub because my other son had knelt on Peter Lorimer!”

Another of my Subbuteo team that was immediately recognisable was Leeds’ utility player Paul Madeley who, unlike his ramrod straight gait in real life, was bent forward like an in-flight 90 metre ski jumper. That minor injury sustained after I threw him in anger after missing an easy goal scoring opportunity when one on one with Ipswich goalkeeper Laurie Sivell.

Madeley hit a sofa cushion after launching him with a baseball style side arm pitch, so thankfully his injuries weren’t too severe. Subsequently, I was mightily relieved when he managed to play a few days later on a cold Tuesday night at Stoke City (well, our dining room), following a cortisone injection…… God only knows where our Ian got the cortisone from, or indeed how he managed to inject it in a one inch high plastic footballer!!

At the start of this narrative I accused my brother of cheating by shuffling his players when playing Subbuteo, an aspersion which I still stand by. However, if truth be told, all of our peers were equally guilty of this board game malpractice.

I recall these table top football matches against family and friends with great fondness. Well apart from the one game when our Ian advised me “For flips sake, will you stop making those flipping crowd noises, Gaz!”***.

*** – Our Ian possibly didn’t use the word flipping!!

My sibling’s jibe leading to more 1970s football realism by resulting in our kid and me partaking in a fistfight – A scrap not unlike that witnessed during the 1973 on-field punch up between Leeds’ Norman Hunter and Derby County’s Francis Lee.

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