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Move over Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham the real England champ is a 15 yr old SUBBUTEO star

WHEN Cayn Matthews dusted off his old Subbuteo set eight years ago, he expected to play “two or three times a year”.

Little did the 56-year-old dad know but his daughter Ruby, then seven, would “fall in love” with the game and go on to become one of its most promising stars.

Ruby Matthews is the under 16s captain of the English Subbuteo Association and one of the game’s most promising stars[/caption]
Ruby, 15, will represent England at the Subbuteo World Cup this September
Damien McFadden

Now 15 and soon to sit GCSEs, she will represent England at the flick-to-kick game’s World Cup this September.

She is among a squad of 36 Three Lions, sponsored by Weetabix, to battle it out in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where the event is being held for the first time.

Ruby, ranked fourth in the world in the under-16s category, has travelled across Europe to play and reached the quarter-finals of the European Championships in Gibraltar last year.

She is hotly tipped for victory in the Eland Cables FISTF World Cup after claiming her first win in the Majors — the third biggest type of Subbuteo event — in Paris in February.

Ruby, from Flintshire, tells us: “It felt amazing, I never expected to win.

“I thought I would do OK but was in utter shock, it didn’t hit me when I won.

“I immediately took to the game when my dad got out his Subbuteo set.

“If it wasn’t for him helping me to play I wouldn’t be where I am now.

“Most of my friends don’t know what Subbuteo is, and I think it confuses them but they think it’s cool I play something so different.”

There are believed to be around five million Subbuteo players worldwide and in recent years the UK has seen a resurgence in the table-top game.

Alan Lee, 54, chairman of the English Subbuteo Association, believes Covid and the “enthusiasm” of former players are the driving force.

He says: “Membership is up about 600 per cent now compared with pre-Covid, when there were about 20 members of the national association.

“We have around 200 full members now and our social media groups have about 10,000 people combined.”

Alan, who started playing at 11, says for Tunbridge Wells, where the game was invented, to host the World Cup is “a boyhood dream come true”.

He has high hopes for England’s chances in the tournament.

Alan says: “We’re just like the England men’s football team — we have always had that potential, and good individuals, but never quite done it at the big tournament, the World Cup.

“We have won a silver medal and a few bronze medals but we’ve never got a gold, so this year is the one. It has to be.

“Football is coming home!”

A replica of England’s real-life 1966 World Cup winners

More than 300 competitors from 26 countries will travel to Tunbridge Wells to participate in two world cups, which will take place over the same weekend in September.

England will be sending six teams — Under-12s, Under-16s, Under-20s, Open, Veterans and Women’s — to battle it out in 30-minute matches split into two halves.

Alan says as many as 64 games can take place simultaneously during the early stages of the World Cup and he anticipates “thousands of spectators at any one time” will be there to watch.

It will be a special moment for Tunbridge Wells, which remains proud of the success story of Subbuteo and its Brit creator Peter Adolph, who died in 1994.

He created the game in 1947 after being demobbed from the Royal Air Force at the end of World War Two and soon it became a hit among children in the UK and across the globe.

The first Subbuteo World Cup was held in 1987 — the same year that 16-year-old player Justin Finch, then ranked No5 in the world, insured his right hand for a reported £160,000.

Celebrity fans

Among the game’s celebrity fans are footie bosses Sir Alex Ferguson and Sven-Goran Eriksson, comic Frank Skinner, former Conservative leader Michael Howard and punk band The Undertones, who mentioned Subbuteo in their 1980 song My Perfect Cousin.

The game’s popularity began to fall in the Nineties as video games took over.

By 2003, annual sales had dropped to 500 per year, down from 3,000 the year before.

But now an increasing number of younger people are playing — including Elliott Dieu De Bellefontaine, 27, of Elstow, Beds.

He has represented England at “around ten World Cups”, including leading the Under-19s to a bronze medal in 2017, and has travelled “most of Europe” thanks to the game.

Border Force officer Elliott, who trains eight hours a week to perfect his art, tells us: “My mates all take the mick out of me.

“I was brought up playing on PlayStations and gaming consoles, so there is a bit of shock when I tell people that I play Subbuteo — until I speak to the older generations, who love it.”

With just four months to go until the World Cup, England’s Subbuteo stars are hoping to at long last bring home a gold — and know victory is within flicking distance.

Damien McFadden
Ruby, second from right, with fellow players[/caption]
Subbuteo inventor Peter Adolph died in 1994[/caption]
England international football kits on Subbuteo figures[/caption]

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