For 25-year-old Bristol man, the passion for minature football is still alive
KASPAR Bennett's first memories of playing Subbuteo are lost in the mists of his childhood.
The lounge floor in his family home in Clifton would regularly be transformed into Ashton Gate or sometimes even Wembley, simply by using miniature men to kick tiny balls across sheets of green felt.
Most youngsters' dreams of Subbuteo stardom evaporate in those awkward early adolescent years along with the final scraps of the tooth fairy, Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny.
But for 25-year-old Kaspar, the passion for miniature football has never diminished.
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Back in 2007, the estate agent, who lives in Totterdown, made the Subbuteo world cup finals, and ever since he has played for a series of Italian-based Subbuteo teams – travelling across Europe half-a-dozen times each year to represent his side.
But now Kaspar is bringing Subbuteo back to his home city. He has organised the first ever "professional tournament" for Subbuteo players at Ashton Gate later this month.
Eight of the world's best players will take part, representing different European nations – including local Subbuteo star Darren Clarke, of Bedminster, who will be representing England.
There will also be players from Spain, Italy, Belgium, Wales, Portugal, Holland and Austria. Four former world champions will be taking part, along with the current world champion, Dutchman Eric Verhagen.
Bookmakers will be on hand to take bets from spectators for the 15-minute-a-half matches.
"There will be a total prize fund of £10,000, with all eight players getting a prize, and the winning player taking away a prize of £2,400," Kaspar explains.
"I had the idea back in 2007 when I played in the world cup finals. Although I was the runner-up – so close to winning – I walked away with nothing.
"I had put in a lot of effort – I'd trained for months to get to the world cup – and I felt I should have been in with a chance winning a cash prize, rather than just the glory of being the top Subbuteo player.
"After all, the top players in almost every other sport are rewarded financially in one way or another, so I thought I would try to develop a tournament that takes the world's top Subbuteo players a bit more seriously."
Kaspar secured sponsorship from a number of local firms, and also got the backing of the Winning Post chain of bookmakers, who will provide the betting facilities on the day.
"At first we wanted to hold the event in a casino," he says, "but then we discovered that it was illegal to place bets on live sporting games held in casinos. I thought about it for a bit, and then it struck me that the obvious place would be Ashton Gate.
"In Europe, where Subbuteo is much bigger than it is here in the UK, teams are almost always affiliated to real professional football teams.
"I approached Bristol City, and they loved the idea, and offered us a perfect indoor venue at the ground."
But there will be none of the sly youth centre tricks of polishing the felt turf to make the ball run more smoothly, or using your elbow to deflect your opponent's shots on goal.
"It will all be taken very seriously, with rules being adhered to just as closely as if it was a real football match," says Kaspar – who won't be taking part as a competitor.
Spectators will be charged £3 entry on the door, which will be donated to Cancer Research UK.
"For me, it's mostly about raising the profile of the game in this country. When you go over to Italy, everyone plays Subbuteo, but here it's still seen as a child's game.
"I think when people come and see some of the world's top Subbuteo players in action, they will realise that there can be real skill involved in the game, and, hopefully, that will make them want to go back to playing the game themselves.
"It's particularly important that we keep getting younger players coming into the sport, because we're already behind most European countries in the Subbuteo rankings, and that's only going to get worse unless we start getting new players involved."
● The Bristol Subbuteo World Masters Tournament will take place at Ashton Gate on September 18, at the Dolman Exhibition Hall, from 5pm to 9pm – directly after Bristol City's home match against Coventry City.