My Mystery of Pompey is Finally Solved
Some time ago, it may have been back in 2001, I picked up a small collection of teams that included 8 reference 53's. They came in a late 60's box that was missing the number, but did have Pompey in transfers on the lid. I was intrigued with this team as they had very detailed shorts with red, white and blue stripes, very different from the two plain shorted versions of reference 53 I owned.
The eight man team consisted of four players with brown hair and boots and four with black hair and boots. Not only that, the white of the trim had been painted on some, while on others, the white was bare unpainted plastic. I assumed that they were repainted as I couldn't find reference to this variation anywhere.
The deciding factors for me that these were a bunch of repaints were they a) looked too well painted and b) the box was probably the original late 60's or early 70's so it seemed highly unlikely that shorts with such detail would be done by Subbuteo at that time. Even Brazil were missing the white stripe off their famous blue shorts and Middlesborough (171) was the first striped shorted kit I ever came across in the catalogue, so it didn't fit at all well to have a one off kit with multi-striped shorts as early as maybe 1970? It just wasn't the done thing in Subbuteo tradition and seemed just too sophisticated a kit along side the other references available at that time?
Imagine my surprise when another part team of eight men, also with multiple striped shorts, turned up on auction in 2003! Obviously having a nice little story for the Gallery in the making, the offer was made (and much to the amusement of the seller) to 'name his price' for these spares. Luckily for me he didn't abuse the situation and I paid a fair price. When they arrived I found that although more worn than the ones I had, the players matched perfectly and were on the same all blue bases with the same size of printing of the word Subbuteo on the inner disc.
All of the new batch of players were the version where the white had been painted on around the collar, although the white on the cuffs is white plastic. All had brown hair and boots. I am personally left without any doubt that this was a 'short' lived (no pun intended!) variation and I'm quite excited about piecing this team together and has to be one of the great things about collecting things like Subbuteo over a period of time, in that little discoveries like this do crop up one in a while.
It could turn out that I'm purely and simply just the last person to know about this variation and every other collector in the world has one, but it does give a buzz of excitement to make a small personal discovery like this. It's not like finding a lost Beatles track in the loft I know, but satisfying all the same.
One thing that makes me smile is that painters often didn't even know what way round to paint the two shirt stripes on a 102 Crystal Palace, so it comes as no surprise that this was an obviously confusing kit to paint and required much artistic license to achieve... if you look closely at the variations on the cuffs in the second picture you will see that each one is different and although coming out of the same box, the pair in the first picture are wildly different in the collars, cuffs and shorts.
After speaking to a fellow collector about the variation I have come up with a theory on this one and reckon there was probably a bit of unrest from the outworkers who had to paint the team. Let's face it, if you were given Leeds to do all week you were onto a good thing, getting reference 53 was an entirely different matter and the poor painter would have had to have gone hammer and tongue to get these done in any quantity.... could it have that been strike action was on the cards in peaceful 1960's Tunbridge Wells and Mr. Adolph at head office quickly down graded the spec on the kit to avoid strike action? we can only speculate.
'Medic, we have a man down here!'
At Knutsford 2003, Steve Pollard came rushing over clutching this rare find, 'Look at this one' he exclaimed very excitedly, to which I replied 'I think that this is a 138 on reverse base?'. Then it occurred to both of us (after close scrutiny) that there may have been a slight repair. It's gone at the ankles and the owner has lightly softened the fragile ankles with something like a plumbers blow torch (or maybe a flame-thrower) and eased him back onto the base, one of the perks of being a plumber I suppose - you don't have to go out and buy glue to fix your broken toys. Notice there is also quite a lot of carpet strands and dog hair at the point where the player has been fused back on, essential for a lasting and binding mend which is similar to the medieval techniques of house building with cow dung and straw.
Obviously I joke, more probably the Subbuteo player had a dodgy curry on the Friday night before the game and got caught short just before full time. Hysterically for us, if you roll over the photo with your mouse, you'll see that his right hand is desperately trying to stem the constant flow from his poisoned bowel!
I have to admit that I tried a stunt like this on one of my broken players when I was about nine and for some stupid reason I used some lawnmower petrol and an indoor firework to soften the plastic. It didn't work and I set the house on fire and while trying to beat back the flames lost an eyebrow, which I have to add, never grew back properly and now grows the opposite way and I have to cut it back periodically... but I digress....
...After the fire, the investigators from the insurance company came out to the house to speak to my parents about possible causes of the inferno, but the cause was never discovered and I gather it was put down to a 'probable electrical problem' in my bedroom.
As an interesting footnote to this bizarre story, although crippled, this little figure has now become a Worldwide star in his own right, an icon of the Subbuteo world. While talking with Daniel Tatarsky about inclusions for his 'Flick to Kick' book, he thought it would be nice to have a couple of pages of bad repaints and repairs and this figure was an obvious inclusion for this part of the book, and, acting as his agent worked quite a nice deal for him and myself and sold the rights for his picture to be included in the book..... I was going to spend the royalties on getting him mended but went to Barbados for a couple of months instead.
Turning back the clock
2004 was not personally a good year for me which went from bad to worse and to top it all my Dad died in November.... the good news is I still have enough left in me to be able to write the final chapter of this, the last ever gallery page. I've actually run out of things to say at long last!
So, with that in mind, it is possibly a great end to the Gallery section to turn back the clock to happier times, when people didn't steal from me, mortgages didn't exist and no one that I knew had died yet. The days when I would spend most of my time either at school, playing with my mates in the long Summer holidays playing 'war' (and all without fear of being abducted) or waiting for Christmas, which was the highlight of my calendar that seemed to take ages to come round, unlike today when the years seem to fly by. During my early years I was also forced to write diaries by my Mum during the school holidays which to say the least was the ultimate bore. I later found out it was on the advice of my teachers at primary school that I should do these 'fun' diaries, complete with drawings, to improved my grammar and spelling which I was having problems with (apparently at the age of ten I had a writing ability of a four year old)
Now maybe 30 or 35 years later and having the depressing job of clearing out 'the old mans house' I find that my parents had systematically filed almost everything from my childhood into neat cling film wrapped parcels. Everything from the lace Christening dress and superbly hand finished 1st birthday cards, up to the telegram Mum and Dad sent to my first address when I finally flew the nest. It has taken me two days of almost constant sifting to get through the piles of school exercise books, letters, newspaper cuttings and even carbon copies of typewritten notes to the school explaining why I wasn't in attendance on that particular day due to illness. I understand that on February 4th 1971 had had puked and 'trotted' all night and in a hurriedly typed letter to the headmaster Mum wrote that it was 'best for poor Michael to be kept at home for the rest of the week' there is even the reply from the headmaster in Mums file from the 5/02/71, still kept in the original envelope, reporting that 'half the school is infected with the bug so please don't send your child back until fully recovered, or the staff will get it and we'll have to close the school down. It seems strange to read now, but both letters between Mum and the Headmaster are on first name terms and the formalities of Dear Mr. or Mrs. seemed not to be needed.
Looking back through my little pile of history of the last three decades or so, it becomes apparent at how swiftly times have moved on and indeed how primitive, or simple, for use of a better word, life was compared with today. At an open day at my old school last year I was horrified to see laptops and whiteboards everywhere... not one blackboard in the place, probably not because of technological advances but because in today's society if a teacher throws a blackboard rubber at your child for messing about in a split second of frustration, which was common in my day, he or she would probably get sued by the parents union or something. We didn't bat an eyelid at this back then, even though it could be fatal if you got caught square on between the eyes and it was nothing compared to the cat-o-nine-tails in the Headmasters office.... which is another object of torture that I understand has been outlawed since I left school.
I have fond memories of a kid in my class being taken out at close range with a blackboard rubber and remember two girls called Agnes & Winafred carrying out the injured boy on a makeshift stretcher made from his desk. I can still see the scene vividly in my mind, he was covered in powdered chalk and was waving his quill that he still gripped tightly in his hand as if trying to scribble out his last will and testament and all the time Agnes & Winafred stood firm, dodging salvo after salvo of lighter artillery like flying pieces of chalk and tightly screwed up sheets of A4 from the puce faced teacher. The boy apparently died on the way to sick bay from the appalling head injuries.... but it never put us off, we were young and there is no fear factor at that age so continued to mess about in class and took our chances as we knew only one of us could be taken down at a time and the odds of getting hit by the rubber was around 30-1 against - a bit less if you were at the front though. By the sixth year the stats were shocking, it was like Omaha beach in our form. Of the 32 who set out in first year in 1980, only myself and six others made it to sixth grade in 1986. We lost some good men with the majority to blackboard rubber attacks. Howard, my best mate, who I'd sat next to through the whole campaign got hit by a ricochet off the overhead projector just before Christmas 85... it could have been me.
And so, it appears from my diaries that I have swam in stagnant pools, eaten mud pies, made genies from fireworks, bitten off a sticklebacks head for a joke (?) and camped with a mate by the river when I was 12 without our parents being the slightest bit worried. OK, I've had a few broken bones, impetigo and blood poisoning, but I'm still alive, and with so much detailed information now at my disposal I was certain that somewhere in my exercise books and diaries there would be references to my main childhood passion, Subbuteo. Sadly I didn't seem to write much about it, but have come across one short reference in an undated early 1970's Christmas school holiday diary.
It appears I write in the third person in the diary, calling myself 'a boy' and in the compelling story that I penned, I reveal how I find the Subbuteo Express set tucked away under the 'sopher' and exclaimed 'cor' at finding it and then 'inside 2 minutes' started playing with it'... Burnley v Leicester apparently, this all happens way before Christmas Day. I have to remind you I was only 9 years old or so at the time and when I say 'inside 2 minutes I immediately started playing with it' I was talking about the Express set....I think? You have to laugh at my Mothers fantastic choice of place to hide an Express set from me.... under the 'sopher' of all places, it was the first place I was going to look! I think the boot of the car would have been better, I'd have never looked there.
The story rants on, with all the bad spelling that I have managed to keep into later life (the extra curricular diaries never did work, but the spell check does) and it seems that the set got re-wrapped and I opened it once again on Christmas Day (great surprise for me then, wonder what this 4 foot by two foot parcel is?!) and I proudly took it round to my Grandparents to show them. I don't remember at all the final passage, but apparently I went to see QPR v Liverpool on Boxing day and Liverpool won 3-2 and won a cup and I end with 'it was all right in the end!' ??? maybe someone out there with a Rothmans Football year book can confirm the fixture and date?..... but I think I was making it up, I don't remember it at all? It looks from what I've written as though I had quite a bumper sack of goodies that year, a football, another football game?, a Liverpool 2nd outfit which I think was the reference 81 Subbuteo team and not the 'replica' kit and the classic plate wobbler to put under the table mat... I recall this, a flat plastic bag attached to a hand pump on a tube. You hid it under the table cloth and as the family began eating you'd pump like mad to wobble the plates and although Grandma had bought it for me, she didn't have a clue what was going on and thought it was some kind of force of nature or act of God. The family all sat round the table and roared with laughter at Juniors antics when they realised it was just a practical joke and not an act of God afterall.
And so the diary entry ends, but I was clever enough back then to have the foresight to know that one day my childhood memories and diaries would resurface and that I would have a web site called 'Little Plastic Men' so drew a picture of my brand new Express Set so I could reproduce it all these years later. I also wish now I had not played with it and kept it in the shrink-wrapped state (yeah, as if..... I couldn't even leave it under the 'sopher' until Xmas day!)
Here is my simplified drawing of the Express box lid, it's the one on the left, the one on the right is the real thing.
Before the Gallery comes to a close and turns into a total personal tale of woe, long lost childhood and memories of dead parents, it's worth mentioning the small amount of other artifacts were found in the same bag as my early literal efforts. Firstly, a figure from the Airfix Commando set of ho/oo figures. I have to laugh now at this particular figure, it's the one that has just come out of the officers mess after drinking too much scrumpy while on leave, completely useless for your average 'knock em down with marbles' war game and probably why he survived into Mum's archives as I had no use for him as he didn't have a gun. Secondly, a dice from the Logacta Chart Soccer Game. This was only ever available on mail order from Shoot magazine or similar boys publications and was brilliant, very simple to play, but very addictive and something that should have been kept instead of the drunk Airfix Commando.
Best all all is a completely shattered blue scarecrow figure from my very own Express set from that long forgotten Christmas.... I have to wonder why Mum kept it? and secondly from a collectors point of view, you'll notice that I had lightly penciled the player number on the base and not daubed it on the back of the player in Airfix gloss. Maybe I could rub this off and restore the figure to its former glory, that is if I could only find the head and arms? I think not, he's just fine as he is, all mine from new, but am alarmed after seeing so many mint boxed teams in the past few years, to ask the question why has my Subbuteo got so badly damaged?
The answer is actually quite simple. I was always making things, taking things apart or blowing stuff up to 'see what happens' and when I found my old bag of Lego, the evidence of my experimenting becomes apparent.
In the picture above, my industrious side is simple enough to see. The green Subbuteo fence surround was obviously bust, or probably more the case not good enough as it didn't have enough advertising panels so I took it upon myself to construct a completely new surround from Lego, which I vaguely remember doing after seeing it again after all this time.
The picture below shows some of the vast amount of melted or scorched Lego I had. This was more than likely from my 'experimental' childhood stage and remember only too well how the wargames with the Airfix soldiers took on a whole new dimension once I was able to build complete towns and cities from the Lego material in OO scale. Things got a way lot better when I discovered that the stuff Dad ran his lawnmower on actually meant me and my mates didn't have to imagine the burning cities anymore. After one particular fierce battle that went on all day, the lawn was so badly scorched that Dad had to spend the two following Sunday afternoons re-seeding vast areas of the battlefield and it wasn't long before he 'upgraded' to an electric mower.
I spoke earlier on how things have changed in the past 30 years and looking at the burnt Lego, probably feel that the selling of fireworks to minors wasn't such a good idea back in the 1970's... with all this wargaming going on, it's not long before you realise that if you make a box from Lego and put a banger in it, leaving one brick out to get a match in to light the fuse you have a very effective home made hand grenade and finishing off your mates Airfix army just didn't seem good enough anymore, you felt that you had to take your mate out as well to really get the conclusive victory. Due to the banger going off in a confined space the power of the gunpowder was multiplied by at least ten times and the flying Lego bricks easily took off tulip heads, small twigs and could break windows in a radius of up to ten feet...It was all good fun and even today my old mate Pete cries tears of laughter out of his one good eye as we recall those military reenactments all those years ago.
My parents went to incredible lengths to keep all the stuff for the future and I'm so glad they did. There's a huge amount of boxes to still work through, but I have already worked out in the past few weeks that Mum and Dad must have adored me to bits to be bothered to keep all their Sons personal possessions and it's quite humbling at the amount of stuff I have found. It is a shame, that now, after finding my carefully dated and ordered history (that I didn't know even existed) that their both not around to say thanks to for keeping it safe so that I can enjoy it all over again and reflect back on those happy times.
If like me you had four million Little Plastic Soldiers all over your bedroom carpet or remember fondly the numerous visits to casualty to get them removed from your inner ear or left nostril, then you may want to visit the link below. The site contains fantastic photos of all the figures from the entire Airfix range and I understand my Commando comes from the type I series only as the drunk was dropped in the later type II series (at least I wasn't alone in thinking he was useless!)
plastic soldier review