The History of Foosball

Having a foosball table at home gives you the license to invite friends in your home. If you had one in your home when you were younger, perhaps you’ve asked most of your friends to play it with you. If you miss the glory days when you may want to buy one for your kids to enjoy, but if you’re only nostalgic, you may check out the history of this game to boost your knowledge.

Origin of Foosball

The origin of the game is a bit murky. Many sources believe that it just started as a parlor game during the 1880s or 1890s in different parts of Europe simultaneously. No one is for sure who invented it.

According to the November 1979 issue of Belgian magazine Le SoirIllustre, it was French inventor Lucien Rosengart who came up with the game of table soccer in the 1930s, when he was looking for something to keep his grandchildren entertained during harsh winter months. Rosengart called the game “babyfoot.” He was credited for inventing the minicar, the seat belt, and the front-wheel-drive as he was employed in Citroen.

Spain also takes credit for the game. A Spanish man Alexandre de Finesterre claims to have invented it when he was bored in the hospital, as he was recovering from injuries he sustained in the Spanish Civil War. He was supposed to patent his creation, but the paperwork got lost. His version of the game is what’s used in modern-day football. In Spain, table football is called futbolin.

What’s sure in the history of the game is that Englishman Harold Searles Thornton got the earliest-known patent from 1923. His original patent application was dated October 14, 1921, but the application was only officially accepted by the UK patent office until November 1. 1923. His game looks and operates just like the foosball we know today. He was credited for inventing the game. The document and the design of his game is the reason why he gets the most credit for developing the game.

Thornton was inspired by a football game he watched in Tottenham Hotspur FC, and he wanted to simulate the game within a small area so people can play it in their homes. A box of matches sparked his original idea. Supposedly, seeing the matches on top of the box brought him ideas for what is now called foosball table rods. After creating his first conceptual design of table football, he pitched the idea to his uncle, Louis P. Thornton.

Louis Thornton was from the United States, and he was responsible for bringing the game in the US in 1927 when he filed for a patent for the game in the country. Sadly, Louis had little success with table football in the US and let the patent expire. This is likely a reason why there’s uncertainty in terms of the history of the game in the US.

Foosball Tournaments

The sport grew in popularity, and it resulted in professional leagues being launched. Fast forward to a few decades after its invention. The Belgians became responsible for the very first league in the 1950s. In the 1960s, table football re-emerged in the US, thanks to American military Lawrence Patterson, who enjoyed the game while stationed in Germany. He was responsible for popularizing the game in the US.

In 1962, Patterson got his first Bavarian-made table and trademarked the term “foosball” to refer to table football for both US and America. Patterson helped found some of the first regional tournaments by the late 1960s.

In 1970, the first American-made foosball table was built by Bob Furr and Bob Hayes. The two of them were responsible for popularizing the game during the 1970s. That time, even Sports Illustrated was covering their tournaments – that’s how popular foosball is back at the time. Meanwhile, Patterson focused on coin-operated foosball tables, which became wildly popular in the US during the late 1970s to early 1980s due to the popularity of arcades.

In the 1970s, there was a bar owner and foosball enthusiast from Missoula, Montana named E. Lee Peppard, who made foosball a national phenomenon and launched his custom brand of table: the Tournament Soccer table. He used high-stakes tournaments to promote his creation. He held his first tournament in 1972 with a prize purse of $1,500. In 1974, he launched his monumental event – the $50,000 International Championships. It was the first big-money championship in the sport’s history.

Peppard then founded the Quarter-Million Dollar Professional Foosball Tour in 1975. It was a traveling tournament that hit 32 cities across the country and offered prizes ranging from $1,000 to $20,000. As the tournament crossed over the country from January to August, some winners traveled along in hopes they may be one of the lucky pros who can compete in the International Tournament Soccer Championships, a tournament offering a grand prize of $100,000 held on Labor Day Weekend in Denver. The championship tournament topped out at a whopping $1,000,000 in 1978.

Shortly after the rise of the video and arcade games came the demise of foosball tables. Video games like Pac-Man took a sizable bite out of foosball revenues, and the popularity of foosball in America declined. However, its popularity has stayed strong in other parts of the world.

In 2002, the International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF) was established. This non-profit organization based in France aims to promote the game around the world. They are also responsible for setting the rules of the game, organizing tournaments and competitions, bringing the game to less privileged countries, and establishes the game with the General Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Table Football in Different Countries

Table football is easy to learn, and any player can catch on quickly. Many people became fascinated with this game, fixating on one thing only: the whizzing ball that flies across the table. It progressed and traversed international boundaries to serve bars, arcades, parlors, and home game rooms.

In the US, table football is known as foosball, which is an Americanized version of the German word “fussball,” which translates to football. The American-style foosball is also known as the “Texas foosball,” and it’s generally played on a dense and solid table surface like mahogany. The ball is usually made of thick plastic, and the foosball men are made of a harder plastic. This makes for a fast-paced game. Also, American foosball tables have three men on the goalie bar as opposed to one goalie in other countries – allowing the player to pull the ball out of the corner without stopping gameplay.

In France, the game is known as baby-foot and is played on a linoleum surface to give a tacky feel. The ball is made of cork to make the gameplay more controlled, with emphasis on passing the ball and setting up the shots, just like in real football.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the game is also known as a kicker. Their tables are the softest to provide ultimate control of the ball to line up shots on over-sized goals.

Finally, in Italy, you can see a good mix of table styles. They are known for using either plastic laminate to slow the game down for precision ball handling, or sandblasted glass to allow faster gameplay.