Eliot Kennedy is one of the longest serving Australian players and has been a key figure in every era of the game’s competitive popularity in the country. He will be representing Australia in the upcoming World Cup in Rome, in the Veterans category and also as part of the Open Team event. ATFA sat down with him to ask him a bit about his history in the game.
ATFA: We’ll start it off simple by asking, how did you get into Subbuteo?
Eliot: I can thank/blame my older brother Martin! One of Martin’s best friends at school was the famous Gary Hosie. Gary and his equally famous brother, Donald, originally from Middlesbrough in England, were mad football and Subbuteo fans, and organised a multi-division Subbuteo league at our school (North Sydney Boys’ High) from about 1973 to 1979. My brother joined as Ipswich Town, and a year or so later (in 1974 or 75), I joined the second division as Burnley, thereby becoming the second of the “Emotional Kennedy Boys”! I would have been 12 or 13 years old.
ATFA: The Emotional Kennedy Boys? Sounds like a band!
Eliot: Martin and I were given that moniker after one too many emotional outbursts, normally after an “unfair” call or, even more commonly, losing!! But in our defence: 1. I don’t think we were any worse than many others, but there two of us, and 2. We were teenage boys!! Need I say more?!
ATFA: So, where did you sit in the pecking order of playing ability back in those teenage years?
Eliot: Well down the order! Actually, if memory serves (Steve Dettre may have the records now), in my first year in the Second Division I came second and won promotion to the First Division, so that was pretty good. There were I think 10 players in each division in that year. In my second year, I think I may have come about 7th or 8th in Div 1. The Hosie boys (Don, then Gary at that stage) were untouchable at the top, then there were another 4 or 5 players (all 2 or 3 years older than me) who were a bit better than me at that time – Tom Mansikka, Rod Harrison, Adam Aitken, Geoff Corner. I was roughly equal with my brother, and there were a couple of guys I could beat!
ATFA: The game, in organised form, died out a bit after that, but you were also around during the late 80s Subbuteo revival in Australia which rolled into the 90s. Had you missed playing? Obviously, you were older, but how did that era feel different from the 70s era?
Eliot: Yes, we stopped around 1978, I think, and restarted in 1986. The first of a number of long breaks over the years, unfortunately. I had missed playing, though in the intervening years had been busy with uni, my first job, playing football, girls etc – not necessarily in that order of importance!! It was great to start playing regularly again, mainly to see old and good friends again on a regular basis. I think the main differences were in our levels of maturity – much higher, albeit from a low base! The visit of Willi Hoffman in 1988 had a revolutionary impact on the game here – primarily discovering the use of polish, but also seeing the style and speed of play and realising how well the game could be played, at least if you were a freak!! From the early 1990s, the biggest changes were probably in the figures (Toccer, Sports Figures) and getting international experience both here and overseas.
ATFA: You’ve always seemed to be around whenever the game gets going again. You played in the one-off tournament in 2010 and then have been ever present in the current era, starting in 2013 and continuing strong now. It seems your passion for the game has kept you around when so many others have fallen away. What is it that keeps you involved?
Eliot: It’s true, I’ve managed to hang around like a bad smell for many years! I think two main things have enabled or encouraged me to stay involved – the people, and the game itself. It’s been really great to meet up again regularly with people I’ve known for over 40 years, like Steve Dettre, Gary Hosie, Robert Green, Jonny Ball, Simon Cole, Paul Magee, Geoff Sirmai and others I don’t mean to offend by not naming them – and also to make great new friends around Sydney, most of Australia and a number of countries overseas (especially in Finland, my wife’s country of origin, but also in Singapore, the UK, US and elsewhere). Just fantastic. I also still really love playing the game – both in a relaxed atmosphere and competitively – and I still foolishly think I can get better, which help keeps me going!! The fact that my legs gave out on me about 10 years ago and stopped me playing football probably also meant I had some passion to spare. 😊
ATFA: The game has changed so much across those decades – apart from the ocassional curl flick, do you still use any of the skills or tactics you learned as a teenager?
Eliot: Good question! I do love a good curl flick, but I don’t really think so, given how much the game has changed. Maybe the only constant is I’ve always loved to attack if I can – if I’m going to lose, I’d prefer to lose 3-4 than 0-1!
ATFA: You’ve played in National Championships, Asian Cups, World Cups, regular club nights. Any games that really stand out for you in some way across all those?
Eliot: A few matches do stand out for me. Finally managing a 0-0 draw with the amazing Gary Hosie in December 1990 – the only time I managed not to lose to him in the modern era! All my matches at the 1994 World Cup stand out, but the absolute highlight was Australia’s win over Norway in the team event, our first ever win, and my own part in it, coming from behind 0-1 at half time to win 3-1. That was just fantastic as I love the team events. Lots of matches from the “modern” era (for me, that’s since 2006!) have been memorable both here and overseas, but my 3-1 win over Bernard Lim in the Australia v Singapore international friendly in 2017 in Singapore stands out as one of the best matches I have ever played. Unfortunately we lost overall on goal difference but I was proud of my performance against a great player in front of a big local crowd. Sorry, Bernard!
ATFA: What would be your advice to players starting out or looking to get better?
Eliot: Well, it certainly pays to play regularly and, if you have a board at home, to practice basic skills as much as possible. I would also advise people to think about how they play and to try to learn lessons from every match – what can be done better or differently next time. Don’t be afraid to ask for tips/advice from more experienced players and, if you’re part of a club, try to encourage them to have training nights. And don’t worry about losing to more experienced players – hopefully they won’t be too brutal and will share their experience with you. But playing and practicing as much as possible would be my main tips.
A few other random thoughts:
1. You can always improve (or at least tell yourself that!).
2. Always try to play in the right spirit, even when it is hard to do. We’re not playing for sheep stations and everyone will enjoy it more. We are all only human and I admit to letting the odd expletive go myself, but try to be your best.
3. And, most importantly, treasure the friendships and the memories that you make through our great game!