Subbuteo, stylish shirts and Sensible Soccer: The joys of retro football

It’s been more than six weeks since the last Premier League football match took place – a 4-0 home victory for Leicester City over near neighbours Aston Villa, on Monday, March 9.

So unless you’ve become engrossed in the world of Belarusian football, it’s probably fair to say that most of us are craving the return of live sport once the ongoing coronavirus epidemic subsides.

At this stage it’s almost impossible to tell exactly when that’ll be, leaving us to focus instead on the memories we’ve accrued over years of watching the beautiful game.

Whether it’s iconic signings, legendary players, title-winning seasons or unforgettable World Cups, this hiatus has perhaps presented us with an opportunity to sit back and remember the great moments of our past – rather than relentlessly focusing on the future.

But the footballing memories of yesteryear are about so much more than just the matches themselves. It’s the games we used to play as children, and the objects and images that bring bygone seasons back to life.

There’s never been a better time to appreciate the joys of ‘retro football'. Now seems like the perfect opportunity to reminisce about five forgotten activities and collectables that could liven up your life under lockdown…

1. Subbuteo

Retro football: Subbuteo

Subbuteo may seem awfully pedestrian to a modern day football fan more used to the frantic excitement of FIFA 20 or the latest Pro Evolution Soccer. But the sedentary nature of this iconic tabletop game is arguably what makes it so pleasurable.

It’s a wonderfully sociable experience to enjoy with friends or family and the slow precision needed to master the game has more in common with snooker than it does with a computer simulation.

When you factor in the vast array of teams and accessories available to collect – some people have built the most incredible stadiums around their Subbuteo pitch – this is a traditional activity that can be enjoyed on a variety of different levels. Take your set down from the loft and get flicking!

2. Championship Manager

Football Manager 2020 is a work of art – an in-depth management game that brings the world of football to life with a staggering degree of accuracy. It’s only flaw is that it’s too good! The dedication needed to be successful in modern iterations of FM can be somewhat time consuming, from setting up detailed tactical instructions to answering questions in press conferences.

The solution for those with less time on their hands may be to load up an old copy of Championship Manager, the predecessor to Sports Interactive’s current management simulation.

The two most memorable editions (CM 97/98 and 01/02) are now available for free online and a season can be completed in a day or two of gameplay. Sure, it may lack some of the trappings of newer versions – there’s not even a 2D match engine for example – but building a team of retro greats like Romário, Juan Román Riquelme and Fabrizio Ravanelli more than makes up for it.

3. Retro shirts

Retro football - Arsenal shirts

Aren’t modern-day football shirts boring? So many of today's kits are templated and lack the originality of those from the 80s and 90s. Even today’s best strips are a throwback to days gone by, like Arsenal’s ‘bruised banana’ away shirt and Coventry City’s rather stylish 19/20 offering from Hummel.

Those kits are the exception rather than the rule, though, which perhaps explains the increasing popularity of retro shirts among football fans. Serie A was the epicentre for football fashion before the turn of the century, but the range of fantastic heritage strips now available has something for every taste – from 94/95 Ajax to Zico’s 1970s Flamengo.

Some of these shirts have even become collector’s items and aren’t cheap, but they’re fast becoming the ultimate accessory for supporters around the country to own this summer. 

4. Programmes

Football Programmes - Retro football

Football programmes aren’t quite extinct yet, but they’re certainly on their way out after it no longer became a requirement to produce them in the EFL from last season. That shouldn’t be a surprise; the internet has made them somewhat irrelevant when it comes to informing supporters about the latest goings-on at their club.

But while their decline feels inevitable, it is a shame. The football programme is a snapshot of a moment in time, a perfect visual aid to remember great games and teams of the past. They’re also a wonderful showcase for the history of design – the programmes for each decade are distinct and of their respective eras, making some from the 70s and 80s editions appear more like a work of art than a glorified pamphlet. 

Whether it’s soviet programmes from before the iron curtain fell, or your club’s most famous encounters, why not start a collection and create a permanent memory of football before the digital age?

5. Sensible Soccer

For the ultimate retro arcade experience, you can’t beat Sensible Soccer. Best played with a joystick but also highly entertaining with a gamepad, ‘Sensi’ was revolutionary when it burst onto the scene in 1992. The pinball-like action and the 2D top-down viewpoint is quite unlike anything currently on the market, but can go toe-to-toe with the best in the business on gameplay alone. 

The sequel ‘Sensible World of Soccer’ is a superior edition thanks to a phenomenal database (the first time clubs like Barnet and Bristol Rovers were included in a computer game) and a management function, but the original is just as iconic and thoroughly enjoyable.

You can now play for free online, or – if you’re looking for a more modern twist on an old classic – the creators of SWOS have released an updated version, Sociable Soccer, on Apple Arcade.