Museum of Plastic: Pro Action Football

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As unthinkable as it may seem, there was once a time when I was unfaithful to Subbuteo. Pro Action Football was all over UK TV adverts at a certain point in the mid 1990s, and like many impressionable football-game-interested youngsters, I wanted a piece of it. It seemed like a faster-paced, more elaborate and all-around more modern version of the classic flick-to-kick gameplay, and everything about it seemed flashier and cooler.

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As it turned out, a lot of the game turned out to be better in theory than in practice. Yes, it was neat that you could “dribble” the magnetic ball across the pitch, but it also meant that games were far less tactical than Subbuteo, and just became more about randomly slamming players around the pitch. The “tap to shoot” mechanism never really worked as well as it should have – and meant that there was little to no skill involved in actually taking shots on goal. About the best thing about it was the fact that goalkeepers could catch, as well as deflect, the ball – and the method of taking a “clearance” (by slamming the keeper down on the pitch so that they flung the ball away) was also pretty good.

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That said, it was a well-produced set, with a lovely look and feel to the players in particular (it was neat that, unlike in Subbuteo, the players had different poses depending on their position on the pitch – and the fact that they had pre-printed numbers on their backs was also a plus point). The pitch initially seemed slicker and better to play on than the then-prevalent Subbuteo nylon, but had nothing on a heavier cloth or astro pitch. The goals, however, were impressively solid, and actually substituted quite well if you wanted to use them in a Subbuteo game (especially if, like me, you were the kind of person who would mix and match the better elements of both games).

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Like Subbuteo, the makers of Pro Action Football (Parker Brothers) attempted to build a market for collectible teams, with an initial range of assorted club and country sets. These generally weren’t the easiest to track down, however (especially in those pre-internet days) and the lack of a thriving collectors’ market might be one reason why the game never really took off. Nevertheless, it’s remained a pretty consistent presence in toy shops ever since, having gone through several changes of both name and ownership. Having briefly been Michael Owen Total Action Football in the late ’90s, it’s continued to live on as Total Action Football ever since. However, the sets you can now pick up are – players aside – much cheaper and less appealing than the original sets, with rubbish plastic goals and a ball that doesn’t even have the Telstar panels painted on it.

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Still, it’s impressive that it’s stuck around for so long – and it was even being advertised on TV as recently as 2011:


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