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The 'Kickmaster' And Other Sporting Christmas Toys That Always Led To Crushing Disappointment

The 'Kickmaster' And Other Sporting Christmas Toys That Always Led To Crushing Disappointment
By Conor Neville
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In deference to the fact that the Late Late Toy Show is now about to start, we will make a humble attempt to get into the spirit of things and remind one of four classic sporting toys that we all know and love/hate.


For those who don't remember it, the Kickmaster, a once popular football related Christmas gift, consisted of a ball encased in a net which was connected by a chord to a hand held contraption.

For kids, it led, as Gaybo mightn't put it, to minutes and minutes of fun on St. Stephen's Day. Like many's the Christmas gift before it, its charms had begun to wane by the 27th of December.

For parents, the appeal of the Kickmaster rested on its potential for combating the scourge of broken windows and ending the culture of balls disappearing down ditches.

As a tool for giving solitary kids some much needed football practice, the Kickmaster was only slightly inferior to a wall.

We hope, for the sake of Irish football, that the Kickmaster is a thing of the past.

In Balls, we believe that the inventor of the Kickmaster has a lot to answer for, more even than Wing Commander Reep and his dodgy statistics.


The Kickmaster, you see, bred bad habits in our eight year olds.


Quite simply, the consequences of a bad touch weren't felt. No matter how heavy and artless the touch, the ball could never get too far away.


Youngsters who learned their football via the Kickmaster presumably found the going much tougher when the ball was freed from its netting and was thus less inclined to glue itself to their feet.

Can you imagine their surprise and distress when, in the heat of battle, the ball persisted in rebounding off their shins? To paraphrase Gay Byrne again, hours and hours of endless frustration.

Bet you in Holland they weren't using them.



A venerable and much romanticised item, the Scalextric set was the gift your father dreamed of getting. Nowadays, the Scalextric set presumably sells better among nostalgic adults than it does among actual kids.

The ad for the product held out the promise of endless exciting races with your father as you directed your speedy automobile expertly around the dangerous chicanes and terrifying loop the loops that made up the race track.


In reality, it involved the car whizzing off the track every two seconds, the track usually coming loose as a result, the remote controller going missing, bits of the track going missing, the remote controller not working properly...


In the ad, the kid invariably triumphed over his father, enjoying the sweetest of sweet victories. The father would have the good grace to act disappointed but would take his defeat on the chin and heartily congratulate the young prodigy.

In reality, the father would get the hang of things far quicker than the son, who in most instances would never get the hang of it. The father would stroll to victory after victory as the son struggled with the business of actually finishing the race. The son would react to his defeat in a petulant fashion and become discouraged.


Also, the ad edited out the fraught negotiations over where in the house the Scaletrix set would actually be erected. Owing to circumstances, the day would soon come where it would have to be dismantled. Re-assembling the track was such an ordeal that this typically meant the thing would be put away.

Stretch Armstrong



Stretch Armstrong is obviously the children's toy equivalent of tug of war. The greatest tug of war warriors probably started out with a Stretch Armstrong in their house.

We've no doubt it's a great grounding in the sport.

We can't talk about others' experience with Stretch Armstrong. Balls can only talk about its own experiences of the product, which involved it 'breaking' on the very day which it was unwrapped.

It was mangled beyond repair. It turned that even Stretch Armstrong had his limits to how far he could be stretched. We don't remember a warning about this on the packet, but then to be fair we didn't read it.

As Balls remembers it, the whole farrago ended as it usually did - with the psychologically weakest and most introvert member of the group being scapegoated for the whole incident.

Swing ball

Comfortably the best gift of the lot here. A ball tied to a pole with a bit of string. Swing ball was irresistible. The ball just hung tantalisingly in the air, just waiting to whacked by your mini racquet. Even now, the allure of a swing ball like product surely remains strong.

To paraphrase French Toast, you can't beat, a few lads hitting a balleen around.

Swing ball was a battle of wills not unlike arm wrestling. One knew, at all times, how close one was to defeat or victory.

The danger of a ball in the eye was ever present. Thus, in a very real sense, it was a test of courage.

Swing ball disappointed not because it wasn't fun but because it was unsustainable as a presence in the back garden in the long run.

Sooner or later, the ball would connect with the eyeball of one of the players. The powers that be would decide that the game was too dangerous.

There would a fraught debate about its dangers. There'd be an op-ed written in the local paper. Such an amount of handwringing would take hold in the community.

We're exaggerating slightly here but it is our contention is that it is never long before swing ball is deemed too dangerous for the garden.

Read more: Only In God: Balls.ie Experiences The Splendour Of Schools Cup Rugby

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