All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit

Today’s Christmas tune is an indie classic from Half Man Half Biscuit. The band was formed in the eighties by Birkenhead natives Nigel Blackwell and Neil Crossley and their debut album, Back in the DHSS (1985), was the biggest selling independent record of 1986. They were favoured by John Peel and then mainstream media tried to turn them into a success. The popular Channel 4 TV show The Tube invited them to appear on the show twice, but the band turned them down both times. Their perfectly good reason was that they would be otherwise occupied at Prenton Park watching their beloved Tranmere Rovers in action. A concern with the minutiae of popular culture in all its forms is the prevailing theme in their songs and the band’s love of football is one they return to again and again. It’s evident in songs like I Was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan, Bob Wilson Anchorman and their critique of the modernisation of the sport, Friday Nights & the Gates are Low. Their song titles draw on their listeners’ knowledge of popular culture and that is also the case with their ode to table football, All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit. This title has been erroneously attributed to a 1963 UK hit for Dora Bryan called All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth. In fact, Bryan reached number 20 that year with a song called All I Want For Christmas is a Beatle. Certainly, her song parodied a 1948 US success for Spike Jones that did indeed highlight his desire for seasonal dental work. Half Man Half Biscuit’s request appeared in 1986 on the b-side of their Trumpton Riots single and is now available on a single CD that brings together their first album and the subsequent Trumpton Riots EP

The song concerns itself with schoolboy games in an era before the advent of computer technology. The first verse is about a popular electronic motor racing game called Scalextric. The narrator of the song is obviously not wealthy enough to own it himself, so he grudgingly goes around to his friend’s house to play it. Unfortunately, it takes ages to set up and then doesn’t even work properly due to a faulty transformer. So, the more affluent kid sends his mother up to the attic to bring down a game that brings back fond memories for me. Subbuteo is a table football game played on a large green baize surface with a goal at each end and eleven miniature plastic players on each team. The outfield players wear the colours of a particular team and are rooted to a solid semi-circular base that allows them to move around the field (see image below). The method of propulsion is via a special flick of the index finger at the base of the player in order to make contact with the ball. The exception (naturally) is the goalkeeper who’s attached to a long stick, which makes him quite agile but not very effective

The game was very popular in my house for a while and would lead to quite a bit of overcrowding in our tiny kitchen when half a dozen of the neighbourhood kids poured into our home. The green cloth pitch was just the right size for our kitchen table and, one particular summer, it was frequently laid bare as it played host to numerous top of the table clashes. Each afternoon must have been quite traumatic for my poor mother, who would do her best to ghost past the flickers as she tried to get the dinner ready. Invariably, players would fly off the pitch and disappear under the dresser. The lucky ones would be rescued with the handle of the sweeping brush, while the unlucky ones would be trampled underfoot and their bones would break faster than you could say Robin van Persie. Sometimes we kids were the ones who stepped out of line, but my mother did more damage than most. Unfortunately, we didn’t have substitutes, so the injured player would be quickly glued back together and ushered back into play. He would never be the same again, though, as his balance would be gone. Nevertheless, I really loved playing this game because I was quite good at it, unlike my feeble efforts at the real thing. Of course, our interest in the game waned over time and was eventually replaced by more technologically advanced distractions like the Commodore 64. My original Subbuteo game had been lying in its original box on top of a press for years until my nephew spotted it recently. It’s now residing amongst his toys, though I believe he uses the pitch and players for farming rather than football

Subbuteo was originally introduced into England after the Second World War and really took off after the home nation’s World Cup win in 1966. Its popularity in the seventies led to a whole range of additions to the basic pitch and goals set-up, including stands, floodlights and replica teams. English teams and successful European teams were easily obtained until it got to the stage where it was even possible to buy the colours of certain Eastern European teams. It seems that the first Dukla Prague kit appeared in 1978 and featured their home colours of yellow and orange. The existence of an away kit is less likely, however, and would appear to be an invention of the boys from Birkenhead. Of course, Half Man Half Biscuit weren’t the first band to sing about this fine game. In April 1980, The Undertones from Northern Ireland performed their only Top Ten hit on successive episodes of Top of the Pops. My Perfect Cousin from their Hypnotised (1980) LP has much in common with the HMHB song. Its narrator also bears some resentment towards his more upwardly mobile relation in a classic diatribe that includes this immortal couplet: “He always beat me at Subbuteo, ’cause he flicked to kick and I didn’t know”. HMHB’s narrator was also discriminated against as he had to make do with headless players, armless goalies and dodgy decisions. Four goals down at half-time, he proves to be a bad sport as he destroys his friend’s floodlights before being ejected from the field of play and the home of his colleague. I wonder if Wayne Rooney or Carlos Tevez ever found themselves in a similar situation. I would like to express my thanks and wish seasonal greetings to Elliott Quince at Quinky Art for allowing me to use his wonderful imagining of the song at the top of this post. It’s taken me a thousand words to capture the song’s spirit, but his witty picture does it much more economically and effectively. Let’s hope there will be loads of kids waking up to a similar scene this Christmas

All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit – Half Man Half Biscuit

The 12 Days of Christmas Archive


4 thoughts on “All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit

  1. Great article about a great band, glad you liked the illustration too.

    My Luton Town FC Subbuteo team from the mid 80s had no black players so i remember painting the faces of 4 or 5 and also scratching a white headband onto one player to turn him in to our captain Steve Foster.

    Great Memories.

    • Thanks very much, Elliott, and thanks a million for allowing me to use your illustration. I guess that Subbuteo is a game that holds a lot of memories for many who grew up in the 80s. I never went to those lengths to personalise my teams, though. Presumably, you had a plastic pitch as well!

    • I was crazy to even consider it. They’re two subjects that have absolutely nothing in common. Happy Christmas, Webbie

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