Foosball History in 3 Minutes or Less
Foosball is a popular pastime in America and one that continues to bring the same extent of joy as when it first appeared almost a century ago. Whether you have played foosball or not, you’ve likely come across a table or two at some point and witnessed the frantic action, laughter and excitement these games always seem to incite.
But how did foosball begin and who came up with this fantastic game?
It’s actually quite an interesting tale with various names, inventors and nuances that make foosball what we know today. Let’s take a look at foosball history and what you might find interesting about one of the most addictive games ever invented.
Famous Origins and Why the Name “Foosball”?
Football is the obvious inspiration for the name “foosball” but this may or may not confuse those living in North America. After all, the game is often referred to as table soccer in this part of the world, which can make more sense given the close semblance to soccer. But we really need to go back a bit to understand the origins of foosball…
Although known as “soccer” in America, football is the most common name for this same sport in the United Kingdom, while fußball (pronounced fussball) is the translation for football in Germany. When I say “the sport”, I naturally refer to the game in which two teams are trying to kick a ball into the goal of their opposition. As you can see, it’s a surprisingly hard game to describe but you get the picture and reason why foosball seems like a relevant name.
However, just to confuse the matter, foosball is actually called “baby foot” by the French and “Futbolin” by the Spanish, while much of Europe has decided on a rather unusual name – kicker. Meanwhile, back on the other side of the pond, America seems to have adopted a variation of the German name by calling the game “foosball”.
It’s not essential to distinguish between any of these names but still informative to mention some of the many names for foosball. Also, it’s interesting to keep this in mind when we talk about Harold Searles Thornton – the official inventor of this famous game.
About the Contentious History of Foosball
Foosball is a table-top game in which the aim is to move a ball into the opponent’s goal by maneuvering rods with figurines attached to them. It’s loosely based on real life football, soccer or fussball – depending on the country from which you come.
Harold Searles Thornton initially claimed that he came up with the name foosball by simply replacing the letter “t” for no apparent reason. We might simply accept this explanation but then it seems somewhat suspicious given how fussball is the German word for football and also the controversy around this invention in the first place.
The truth is, the history of foosball is quite contentious and one that traces back as far as the late 1800s. While Harold Searles Thornton is the official inventor of the game, many more inventors claim to have invented foosball. Foosball has also been patented on more than one occasion and the following are just two names mentioned as inventors.
Identifying the One True Inventor of Foosball
Alexandre de Fisterra was a poet who claimed to have invented foosball in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. He claims to have invented the table-top game while recovering amidst many war heroes that would not be able to play football again due to suffering horrendous injuries. Alexandre even went on to patent this invention in 1937 in Spain before patenting a foot-pedal to assist musicians in turning the pages of a score.
Lucien Rosengart is another inventor that claims to have invented foosball. At the age of twelve, Rosengart was already a mechanic and went on to produce railway parts and even a military rocket. In fact, the French government provided Rosengart with two factories in which he went on to invent many incredible products including the very first Rosengart motorcar.
But getting back to Thornton, the Englishman is officially listed as the inventor of foosball where the first foosball table was patented back in 1923. Prior to patenting the table, the popularity of football had been growing at an exponential rate across Europe. Harold wanted to create a game that people could play at home and a box of matches was said to have served as the inspiration.
After noticing how the matches were lying across the top of a box and extending past the edge, Thornton realized an ingenious way to recreate football in such a way that people could play football on a table top at home.
Louis Thornton and Failing to Break America
Some years later, foosball was patented in America by an uncle of the inventor – Louis Thornton. After playing the game with his nephew in the United Kingdom, Louis became obsessed with foosball and decided to introduce everyday Americans to the same joy. However, foosball didn’t gain the same traction during this period and Louis Thornton would never benefit from the idea.
It was much later when foosball really began to take off in Europe and this was certainly true when competitive foosball came about. Competitive foosball began in bars and cafes around Europe during the 1950s before growing in popularity in the United States the following decades. By the 1970s, every bar and pool hall seemed to have a foosball table and tournaments with large prize money were just as common
About Competitive Foosball and the Foosball League
Belgium was home to the very first Foosball and the European Table Soccer Union was created on the back of this competition in 1976. In short, the league brought players from all over Europe and this league inspired a World Cup that would happen later on.
Today, you will find football cups, leagues and competitions all over the world and some countries even regard foosball as an actual sport. There is even a governing body called the International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF) in France and a set of universal rules which require players to be more tactile and patient. Until the ITSF, there were no official rules for foosball, while even tables came in all shapes and sizes. And some of these rules make a lot of sense…
For example, spinning the rods is not allowed and this refers to rotating a rod for over 360 degrees. Needless to say, this is just one of many rules and the ITSF will change these up from time to time. Also, there are different tables with different types of surface and competitive players need to pay close attention to these kinds of nuances to succeed. After all, these rules and nuances mean that players can use various tactics and skills to beat opponents but all of these factors must fall in line with the rules.
It might also seem a little extreme for a table-game but many pros continue to take the sport of foosball seriously. You obviously won’t find any spinning with such players and these pros practice for any years to take part in big tournaments. In case you might be asking yourself, players use this time to master how to control the ball or learn how to pass between players, while building up various passing techniques that will enable them to control the game from start to finish, regardless of their opponent.
Breaking America: Second Time Lucky for Lawrence Patterson
While Louis Thornton never quite managed to capitalize on the popularity of the game, foosball eventually took off in the 1960s when an American soldier came across it. Lawrence Patterson was also enamored by the game and saw a great opportunity to bring foosball back home to the United States. He even went on to trademark the name “foosball” and hired a creator to design and build the very first foosball table in 1962.
Foosball was met with great enthusiasm on this occasion and people all over the country were looking to pick up a foosball table for their home or business. Patterson was also hugely successful when selling his tables to pubs, clubs, restaurants, and anywhere else for that matter. The former soldier was even able to franchise the tables and enable people to pay a monthly fee in order to sell foosball tables in a designated area.
Tournament Soccer Table and Taking Foosball to the Next Level
But it was actually a bar owner in Montana that made foosball go viral. Lee Peppard created his own custom table and used high stakes competitions to promote the product. “Tournament Soccer Table” became a national phenomenon and the prize purse of his first tournament came to $1,500 in 1972. Just a few years later, he announced the Quarter-Million Dollar Foosball Tour which had prize money all the way up to $20,000. Incredibly, this tour traveled across the country and many of the winners ended up living off the purse money.
In the final tournament of the year in Denver, the prize money was $100,000 but this was nothing compared to the $1,000,000 that would follow in 1978. At the height of this phenomenon, Peppard was selling 1,000 tables each month but the arrival of Pacman and other video games would eventually see Tournament Soccer Table go bankrupt in 1981.
Unfortunately, as with most trends, the popularity of foosball began to wane during the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, the meteoric rise of foosball was over and tables all over the country began gathering dust as people seemed to grow disinterested in the game. As for why this happened, some blamed the emergence of arcades and video games.
Now that’s not to say foosball went away completely, for many high profile tournaments continued to play out in America. Also, some small manufacturers continued to organize the prize money for the Tournament Soccer Table Tour until more recent times.
About the Different Types of Foosball Tables
As you might already know, there are many different types of foosball table and each one offers a distinct playing experience. With a large variety of sizes, foosball tables are also suited to homes of any size and the price of foosball tables is surprisingly low.
You should also find these tables are very different from each other. Some Italian tables have lighter rods, smaller figures and a glass playing field. This combination can produce a much faster game but these tables are still suitable for every skill level. Meanwhile, a lot of French tables have heavy figurines, light balls and rubber-based playing fields which forces players to focus on ball control when using these durable tables. In America, tables typically feature wide figurines and a plastic playing field which makes the game slower but more enjoyable for those who prefer to enjoy more control while playing.
The Return and Rise of Foosball in America
Believe it or not, foosball is enjoying a resurgence in America and making some serious waves in the world of gaming once again.
More importantly, people seem to be back enjoying the simplicity of foosball, while taking a break from the bright lights and incessant sound of traditional video games. And this is an important point, for it would seem that more and more people are appreciating how foosball is a game that allows them to connect with others in real life and take a well-earned break from the internet and technology in general.
It might now be one hundred years since its invention and the game might have gone away for a while, but make no mistake, Foosball is back and most likely here to stay!
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