You know how children want your full attention just as you are be very, very keen to do something completely different? Jarno Saarinen experiencd that on his family holiday in Spain in 2008.
“I was on the balcony trying to watch a football match on TV, and my four-year-old daughter wanted to do something with me,” he recalls. “I was trying come up with something we could do while I watched the match, so we sat on two garden chairs and started playing with a little plastic beach ball, passing it to each other.”
However, with the coordination skills of a four-year-old, the ball was going all over the balcony, distracting Saarinen from his dearest sport. The duo decided to build a makeshift arena out of a couple of wet towels and sheets, so that the ball wouldn’t roll away.
That became the first-ever version of Subsoccer: a game played with a small football on an artificial turf with two chairs as goals at opposing sides of a see-through table top.
From toddlers to grannies
During his summer holiday that very same year, Saarinen and his friend created a 3D model of a new kind of table football game and sent it to the Foundation for Finnish Inventions. Their review, in Saarinen’s words, was brutal.
“They said it’s not that great, a game can’t be patented and games aren’t a particularly lucrative business to begin with,” he tells. “Of course, that was the time before the likes of Rovio and Supercell, and a lot has changed in the gaming industry since then.”
Saarinen decided to put the idea on hold for a moment. In 2015, when his previous company had been acquired by a larger one and he had a little more time on his hands, he stumbled across the original drawing again. The following summer, he purchased a pile of second-hand garden chairs and tables and started playing around.
His daughter, now a teenager, still liked it. So did her younger brother, who was just four, and their grandmother, who was in her 70s.
“I figured that there must be something to this if people of all ages think it’s cool.”
So did a couple of investors. Now, Subsoccer is the product of 4 Feet Under, and Saarinen is the company’s chief innovation officer.
A sweaty sport
Since the early days, Subsoccer has found multiple users and uses. Professional footballers and coaches think it makes for an excellent training tool, and many international football teams are keen to test it. In Finland, various schools are using Subsoccer as a way of keeping kids on the move during breaks.
Saarinen notes that the game is particularly useful for children – and why not older people, too – with disabilities. With the help of Subsoccer, even those who can only dream of running after the ball on a pitch can cure their football fever.
Subsoccer can also be found at indoor playgrounds and fun parks. Come next year, a consumer version will be made available. Saarinen believes that it’ll bring about more interest in the product globally, as requests are already coming in from all over the world without much in the way of marketing efforts.
The potential market is immense; as Saarinen puts it, just think of how many people are crazy about football.
“Our market is essentially everyone who’s into football. That’s half of the world’s population.”
Despite multiple uses and plenty of interest, there’s one drawback: Saarinen still isn’t able to watch a football match while playing Subsoccer.
“It’s far too sweaty of a sport,” he says laughingly, “and you need to focus so hard you can hardly even talk at the same time!”