Paul O'Donovan Rossa is a former English Champion from 1978 and 1979. Paul who now lives in the USA is one of England's table soccer legends and our interview gives a fascinating insight into the game during the 1970s. Paul is also featured within our history of English Champions page
1. When did you first start playing?
I largely played my own games from 1968 until Mike Dent came to my house in 1971, I think to check if I was worthy of the Surrey League. He won 6-0 – so I was in. First time I had seen flat figures, and it revolutionized my outlook on the game.
2. Which was your first ever big tournament?
In 1974, my third season, the Dutch association’s 20th anniversary tournament in Ijmuiden, Holland. There was over 40 pitches, and 130 players from all European associations, including 16 English, attended. I found flat figures and Dutch pitches to be a marriage made in heaven, and I span and chipped my way through the field to what Norman Gleave called “the impossible”, finishing sixth which caused a bit of a shock.
3. Which is the best tournament you have ever attended?
The tournaments I enjoyed the most have been the 70s Masters tournaments during 2000-2008, where old friends and adversaries from the 70s (six English champions plus other top players from that era) got together every six months to play again, and socialize afterwards. The flame still burns…
4. What was the best goal you have ever scored?
Well, I thought they were all terrific! I can picture many of them. Maybe not the best but the most crucial goal was a quickly-taken looping chip to win the England Youth Cup Final replay 1-0 in 1975 against Steve Mantle, Norman Gleave’s protégé. That ended a four year quest for that trophy, and marked the end of youth, and moving up for the next four years into the ‘big time’.
5. Who would you describe as being the toughest player you have faced in England?
For me to single one out would, I feel, in some way would discredit the incredible pool of players I battled with during my English League Division 1 years of 1974-79. I would pay tribute to Mike Dent, Norman Gleave, Terry Edge, Dave Collett, Jeff Parsons, Ron Russ, Stewart Goldman, and from Surrey, Richard Stock. No game against these players was ever easy. And never mind that Bob, Jeff, Kevin and Phil were coming up behind! Consistently the toughest? Probably Norman.
6. Who would you describe as being the toughest player you have faced in the World?
Up until the mid-70s the Dutch players were on another level to the rest of Europe, until Kurt Erb from Switzerland broke their grip on the Europa Cup (and of course Mike won it too, and Norman reached two finals). Two of the Dutch players Anton Verhaal (lost 1-0 and 1-0) and Dick Rietveld (lost 2-0 and 1-0) seemed unconquerable. It was 9 men back for the whole of each game, and some of their play for the goals was sheer brilliance, Rietveld especially. It was an honor to play them.
7. What has been the best match you have ever played in?
Another difficult question! I’m beginning to think that I was so competitive and in the zone, that I never really appreciated anything or enjoyed a moment! Maybe the matches against Verhaal and Rietveld above. It was an experience of playing at such a high, creative level (them) yet with me rising up in my game to almost contain them and keep the score lines close. I can even now feel how my mind was on another Subbuteo plane during those games. Then maybe the first year I won the English National League, comprehensively beating Mike Dent 1-0 in the second round of matches, and then I knew for sure that winning it was on. Mike had been my Subbuteo mentor, and we were close for years (and good friends now). That particular game signified my emergence into the very top of the English game, and symbolically for me it was like slaying the giant.
8. What has been your best moment or achievement in the game?
Well I think from that game with Mike going on to win the English League two years running, and the English and British Cups in the first of those seasons. I lost 2 of 75 games over during that time, and it felt like my game had entered into a zone of creative attacking overdrive. And, then, it was gone, and I’ve never remotely got near to it since.
9. What has been the funniest moment you have seen on a trip away to a tournament?
Terry Edge and I were staying at the home of Jim (Scottish no. 3) and June McLeish the Friday night before the British Championships at Royal Musselburgh in May 1978. We could (we thought) hold our drink, so when Jim suggested we go out ‘for a wee drink’, we knew exactly what the ploy was. We went back to his home after the session, and were chatting with Jim and June in their lounge. Suddenly Terry got up, took off all his clothes and fell asleep on the sofa. I was probably even more shocked by what I saw that night than Jim’s wife.
10. Which football team do you support?
Talk about hitting the ground with a bump! Spurs.
11. What is your favourite food?
No thoughts on that.
12. Do you have any other hobbies?
”Other hobbies?”! Subbuteo wasn't a 'hobby! It was a passion, an intense, life-changing encounter and total commitment between 1971-79, with some of the biggest highs and lows of my life. Hobbies… bird and animal watching, travel, West Coast and Prog music and concerts, playing the piano.
13. What is your favourite holiday destination?
Anywhere with sun, water and nature.
14. What is the best movie you have ever seen?
15. What is your favourite TV series?
The original Edge Of Darkness, Alan Partridge, The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Phoenix Nights, Operation Good Guys.
16. What is your favourite music?
The great West Coast singer-songwriters and Prog rock bands of the Seventies.
17. Which person do you have most respect for in life?
Terry Edge and I first met in 1972 then became friends in April 1975. At that point we decided to dedicate the next four years of our lives to practicing Subbuteo and helping the ESTA. We both succeeded and failed at that – but have done so much more together since then after giving up the game – travelled together, been each other’s best man, and been there in all respects for each other through both great years and difficult ones. He has always been a man of insight, great humour, honour and reliability.