Mini-art meets mini-football in World Cup fan's works

Chris Wright

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - The great moments in World Cup history loom large in the memories of football fans everywhere, but in Terry Lee's studio, they measure about the size of a thimble.

The British artist, who lives in Brazil, has recreated the most famous and infamous scenes of the sport's greatest showcase with tiny plastic figures from classic table football game Subbuteo.

A mini-Bobby Moore proudly holds the World Cup trophy as the England skipper's teammates hoists him on their shoulders at Wembley in 1966. Then Moore embraces a tiny shirtless Pele in Mexico in 1970.

Turning toward more recent moments, Uruguay's explosive Luis Suarez celebrates scoring against England in Brazil last week.

Then he bites Italian Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder.

Zinedine Zidane headbutts Marco Materazzi, Paul Gascoigne cries after being booked and David Beckham stares into the middle distance as he is sent off against Argentina.

All are iconic moments from World Cups down the decades now immortalized as figures standing barely four centimeters (1.6 inches) high -- save for Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the superstar of his country's current campaign in Brazil, who is more than twice as big.

- From 'scorpion' to Suarez -

Each stems from Lee's nostalgia for Subbuteo, a table football game that was wildly popular when today's 30- and 40-somethings were youngsters.

"I've always loved football. I've always had a passion for art but it never seemed to materialize into a career," said Lee, a 31-year-old who moved to Brazil earlier this year.

"I feel very blessed that I can combine two great passions of mine."

It all started with eccentric former Colombia goalkeeper Rene Higuita denying England a goal with his legendary "Scorpion Kick" -- not in a World Cup game, but in a friendly at Wembley in 1995.

Lee happened to be rummaging through some old Subbuteo pieces at the time.

"The eureka moment came when I had amassed a lot of broken Subbuteo figures and wanted to recycle them. This is when I created the Rene Higuita 'Scorpion Kick,'" he told AFP.

"It was instantly a hit online and I realized this is what I should be creating -- unique Subbuteo figures of iconic players."

His focus soon turned to World Cup scenes.

Football and art, plus a heavy dash of nostalgia, can prove irresistible.

The figures are sold online for about $20 a piece to clients worldwide.

"Naturally, people aged 30 plus have heard of Subbuteo. It brings back great memories. I have many clients who tell me they buy my figures to get their children interested," Lee said.

Each takes a day or two to complete and is hand-painted "using some very, very fine-hair brushes" in what is now a full-time job.

"There is a lot of sculpting, cutting, sanding and gluing to achieve the individuality in each figure," Lee said.

"I will never be a millionaire with this but I feel very blessed that I have found the perfect work for myself."

- Art as football -

Lee's current World Cup production line has kept him busy.

"The (Robin) Van Persie header (for Holland against Spain) is very popular. I am always looking for iconic moments and the World Cup always delivers," he said.

Suarez's highs and lows, Daniel Sturridge's goal celebration for England against Italy, Lionel Messi and Neymar hitting the target -- myriad top names are available.

Drawn by his passion for football, Lee recently moved with his Brazilian wife and their young son from Britain to a small town four hours west of Rio de Janeiro.

"I always wanted to live in Brazil. Their footballing culture drew me here," he told AFP.

Notwithstanding the social problems around this year's World Cup -- the target of street protests by Brazilians angry over the record $11 billion budget -- it is "an amazing event," he said.

"But with it comes the expense. When there is a lot of poverty in a host nation, it is very understandable that people would rather see the billions spent on making the country a safer, healthier place for its citizens," he said.

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