Button football pitch
Credit: Maria F.

This is a little home made football game that has become extremely popular in several countries throughout the world. It is composed of a football pitch depicted on a large wooden board, a couple of goals, 11 button players, one button ball and “click” buttons to shoot button players. Each player positions all his player buttons on the pitch, and then the players take turns (a bit like in billiard) to click their players and direct the ball in this way towards the goal. All the techniques and strategies of football apply to the game, except at a slow-motion pace.

Button football: the game

To play this game you will need:

  • A football pitch: get a big wooden (sturdy) board, green if possible, and draw the lines that you would normally see in a real pitch (semicircles around the goals, middle circle and line, corners etc…). Also remember to draw a dashed line a bit over halfway the distance between the goal and the center.
  • Goals: the ones provided with the Subbuteo game do a great job. But you can always do your own, with wooden sticks and a potato net
  • Player buttons: oh you will need lots of those… Just get a big pack from eBay, or check the replacement buttons that come with coats and jackets. With practice, you will see that some buttons are good as defendants (they are big (but don’t go illegal!) and sturdy), some are good for “headed goals” (i.e. they make the ball fly), some others are small and can squeeze anywhere, some are very reliable to make critical shoots… Be aware that some buttons just won’t work. The way I prepare buttons is I sand down the back part of the button (in very particular buttons I do it with the front  - in the end, it’s the one you find the flattest), and then you keep trying them on the field to see if they slide properly. Make a football kit by printing the colors and number on white stickers, or make them manually.
  • Ball buttons: these don’t even need to be sanded down. The ones that come with shirts are the best.
  • “Click” buttons: big, untreated and round-edged. Try them on player buttons to see if they are good.
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Button football: the rules

The rules vary in a thousand ways and everyone can create other rules. The ones I use are:

  • The game unfolds in alternating shifts. Each player can make only one move per turn – if he succeeds in passing the ball from one player to another (or to the same player), in other words, touching it twice with his buttons, then he will be given another turn (and so on until the ball doesn’t touch twice one of his players, the ball goes out, there’s a foul or he scores a goal)
  • A goal is considered as scored only if a player ahead of the dashed line has touched the ball before it goes in
  • If a player hits a player from the opposite team without having touched the ball first, it’s a yellow card for that player. But if it’s after touching the ball, the game goes on. You have to think of this game as a very dyamic one (there are clicks and ricochets all over the place).
  • When the ball goes out, there’s a goal or there’s a yellow card, each of the players repositions all his buttons to address the new situation in the best way.
  • Players leaving the field of play are located in the place where they left the field, and if a ball touches them, it’s considered that the ball is out
  • When shooting a penalty (after a yellow card has been given because a player ahead of the dashed line has hit a player from the other team, without hitting the ball), the ball should be placed on the dot provided, and the shooter should be positioned before the goalkeeper is placed.

(sorry it's in Spanish)

The history of button football

Over the years, different modalities of table football/soccer have been appearing  as one of the most popular games for both children and adults. Through such games, in all forms (buttons, bottle tops, Subbuteo...), participants can be identified, not only with real football idols, but with the particularities of each of the figures that represent a player.

The most established commercially has been Subbuteo. The game features flawless player figures, goals and playing surface, and they all come mounted and crafted, which is great especially for the young, but their development, in practice, is very different from button football.

In button football, craftsmanship and creativity are always present, as each participant must manage his own team(s), being at the same time the president, coach, talent scout, etc… You can even buy other people’s buttons, and some people travel to France, Brazil, etc… to look for their stars, train their players, set up a game system, or to design the official football kit. Although button football is not known by many, it is undoubtedly much larger than it may seem. There are several countries where associations are known: Spain, Serbia, Hungary, Uruguay and Brazil mainly. In Brazil in particular, there is no other game that is as popular as button football. Across the country, in places as distant and different as the Amazon and Rio Grande do Sul, there is not a single boy (and increasingly more girls too) who hasn’t tried to live the thrill of leading his team.

The origin of the sport is quite controversial, even if some people or countries claim it as theirs, the real stem was lost in time. Games were played in the first decades of the last century, more or less simultaneously in different places, which leads to believe in spontaneous generation in parallel. It is also known that the first cities where the game was first practiced were coastal capitals, which means that, probably, in a world where there were still no cars or aircrafts, sailors must have been the ones to spread it. In 1930 Geraldo Celso Carioca Décourt published the first official rulebook. The fact is that, after the publication of the rules, button football itself began a revolution.