The History Of The Origin Of Foosball

The origin of foosball has been one of history’s tough conundrums. There has been a lot of contention as to who invented it but if there is one thing that everyone agrees on, it is that the game had its roots in Europe. Some believe that the game just sprung up like mushrooms in different parts of Europe in the 1880s or 1890s as a parlor game. Others think that this was first conceptualized by a French engineer named Lucien Rosengart who already had several patents under his belt and had his hands full with producing railway and bicycle parts, rockets, and cars.

Rosengart claimed that he came up with the idea of the table soccer game in the 1930s to keep his grandchildren occupied during the cold winter. His version was called “babyfoot” and it still continues to go by that name among the French. The name foosball was actually born much earlier which you will find out later. Rosengart’s game eventually caught on in different cafes in France.

Then another contender came into the picture and proclaimed that the game was HIS brainchild. That person is Alexandre de Finisterre. While he was recovering from injuries that he sustained from a Madrid bombing by General Franco’s fascist forces in 1936, he realized that he and his fellow wounded Republicans would not be able to enjoy football the same way ever again. So he invented the Spanish variant of the game, futbolín, and patented this in Barcelona in 1937.

The table was built by a local carpenter, Francisco Javier Altuna, and the design was influenced by the game table tennis. Legend has it that the paperwork for the patent was spirited away during a storm when Finisterre pursued Franco in France. If it is any comfort to Finisterre, his table soccer/football version is the one used now in modern-day table soccer.

Just to keep the muddling going, Harold Searles Thornton from the United Kingdom invented a game whose name we are all familiar with, foosball, about a decade before Rosengart and Finisterre called dibs on the idea of miniature people playing soccer or football. Because football had become so popular in Europe, he wanted to people to be able to experience it in the comfort of their homes. You can never have too much football and so he applied for a patent on October 14, 1921 and it was accepted on November 1, 1923 (UK patent no 205,991) making him the one with solid and tangible proof of a patent.

Harold’s uncle, Louis P. Thornton from Oregon, USA, made an attempt to introduce foosball into the US and patented it in 1927. Sadly, It did not gain a cult following. The patent expired, leaving foosball to go into the shadows and will not come out until much later.

How Foosball Came Out

While table soccer went into a slumber in the US, the Belgians established the first league in the 1950s. In 1976, the European Table Soccer Union emerged. Back then, they did not have a consensus on what the dimension of the tables should be, what the ball should be made of, or what the standard design should be. There was not even a universal set of rules. So much for having a union that cannot get settled on anything.

Foosball then came out of the shadows in the US because of Lawrence Patterson, who will later be inducted as the father of the coin-operated foosball. In the early 60’s, he was stationed in West Germany with the U.S. military. He saw how popular table football was in Europe and thought that the game could make it big in the U.S too. He had the tables manufactured in Bavaria, Germany with his design specifications.

They arrived in America in 1962 and were sold under the name L.T. Patterson Distributors. Patterson also had the name Foosball trademarked in America and Canada and his tables were marked with the name “Foosball Match”. As they were coin-operated tables, they were mainly played as arcade games. In 1965, he incorporated his firm as Patterson International Inc. and in 1969, they operated business under a new name, American Youth Marketing Corp.

Between 1962 and 1965, Patterson sold 4,000 foosball tables. This was less than what he had hoped for so in 1967, he sold franchises and shipped another 10,000 foosball tables between 1967 and 1973. Sales were 1 million per year for several years during that period. The licensees paid a monthly franchise fee. Some of Patterson’s franchisees held the first soccer tournaments in 1968. Still, it did not reach the popularity that they were aiming for which led them to drop the whole franchise idea in the 1970s. The American Youth Marketing was not yielding the desired gain and Patterson had to end his business. Patterson declared that the franchise succumbed to the judicial system and legislature that outlawed certain types of franchise agreements.

Foosball did not die along with the closure of Patterson’s business though. In 1970, Bob Hayes recruited engineer Bob Furr and they designed and built the first American foosball table. Furr improved the design of the German-style tables and these larger cabinets came to be known as Texas-style cabinets.

Other styles thrived. In 1971, Deutscher Meister, despite it being a German-style table, became the top-selling foosball table in the USA along with Garlando (which is, you guessed it, an Italian-style table). Other brands came into the picture such as Tornado, Dynamo, and in 1973, a Montana tavern owner named Lee Peppard introduced his own Tournament Soccer Table.

The Old Days Of Foosball Tournaments

There were amateur and professional tournaments across America such as the Quarter-Million Dollar Professional Foosball Tour which had prizes of up to $20,000 and the International Tournament Soccer Championships (ITSC) that had $1 million up for grabs. There was even a movie, Long Shot, about three teenagers’ quest to win the National Fussball (foosball) Championship.

Foosball’s popularity then suffered a big blow during the advent of the golden age of arcade video games such as Pacman. The 1970s saw 1000 foosball tables sold each month. Well, that plummeted to a 100 each month and in 1981, the International Tournament Soccer Championships (ITSC) filed for bankruptcy.

Despite its diminished presence in the US, there were still some tournaments here and there sponsored by the likes of Dynamo and Tornado and in 2003, the USA became part of the International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF) which usually holds World Championships annually every January in Nantes, France.

Up until this day, there still isn’t a universal design and style for foosball so the International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF) has recognized 6 different types of foosball tables.

Different Types And Styles Of Foosball Tables


American Style

This includes the Tornado, Fireball, and Shelti which are known for their hard playfield which promotes speed and rigidity. It is a cross between the French and German foosball tables and it focuses on ball control + passing + shot execution equals power.

Czech Republic Style

The gameplay is similar to the American and German versions. Controlled play is encouraged. The manufacturer that sports this style is Rosengart. The ITSF has certified the Rosengart table as a professional foosball table in recent foosball competitions.

French Style

Rene Pierre, Sulpie, and Bonzini would come to mind if we are talking about French-style foosball tables. The French usually prefer a linoleum surface and a cork ball, valuing control overpower and is therefore skill-driven.

German Style

We have Leonhart, Tecball, Carromco, and Deutscher Meister under this category. These tables feature sloped corners and have a single goalkeeper. Some use sanded glass to allow the ball to move at high speeds. This technique prevents the foosball men from getting loose. The German-style tables are often softer to provide maximum control.

Italian Style

The Garlando, Roberto Sport, and FAS are some of the manufacturers that showcase the Italian style. Italian models have angled legs to hold slippery surfaces. They have sandblasted glass that allows power or a plastic laminate to slow down the ball. If the Germans and French prefer control and the Americans are inclined to a power-based play, the Italians like it somewhere in between. This makes the Italian gameplay suitable for players of various skill levels.

Spanish Style

An example would be the RS Barcelona. The Spanish gameplay is skill-based and focuses on hand-eye coordination. Spanish tables are unique in a way that they are inspired by Spanish men’s football and so the table slopes in a “U” shape. It makes use of a back pin as a way of controlling the ball.

Foosball has come a long way from where it started. Regardless of how you prefer to play it, there is a foosball table that will give you just what you need. Coin-operated ones still have not gone out of style. You can still see them in bars, restaurants, and other commercial places. And in addition to the freestanding foosball tables, tabletop versions are now also available so that you can have a match whenever, wherever.

Depending on your budget, your preference on the size, material, dimensions, features, and aesthetics, and the space that you have available, you can get a foosball table for as low as $20 (yes, you read that right) and as high as $10,000.

If you are just starting out or you want to try out foosball without really committing to it, you can go for the mini tabletop version which you can pick up for almost the same price as a good pair of socks. Tabletop foosball tables are convenient if you have very limited space or if you want something that is very portable.

Your average table would be in the $100 to $1,200 price range. A lot of the brands that we mentioned earlier in this article fall within this range. A decent one would be around $500 up. That would be an amount well-invested if you consider yourself to be not the average and casual player. Actually, that is already training-for-competition grade. For most of the tables in this price range, price is directly proportional to the quality. Although you would have to shell out more, you get to keep the foosball table for longer.

Now, if you are a very serious fooser, tournament-style tables are anywhere from $2,000. Such a table deserves a shrine where it can be displayed in all its glory so just be ready to get in deep. But then, that should not be a problem for anyone seeking the ultimate foosball experience.

You do not always have to go for brand new ones. You can probably find better deals by shopping for used foosball tables on any secondhand site or app like Craigslist. But if you are set on going big but your pocket just allows it right here, right now and you are pretty positive that you will be able to pay it over time, check with your local furniture store chain to see if they have some financing options.

Conclusion

There is not much literature (or not one that we have easy access to) on how much the predecessors of today’s foosball tables were worth back then but the only thing that is certain right now is that the ones designed by Rosengart, Finisterre, and Thornton are museum-material by now if they are not in museums already. The models produced by Patterson’s company are now considered collectors’ items and you are lucky if you still have a working one in your possession. Parts may be scant so if you intend to continue playing with the Patterson model, you may want to replace the parts with the commonly available ones today and box up the original parts until you find a use for them.

Whether you are in Rosengart camp, in Finisterre’s, or in Thornton’s, we all have to agree that the variety that each spawned makes foosball all the more interesting. We hope that we have helped you find the discipline, playfield, design, and price that matches your style and budget. All three gentlemen would agree on everybody’s enjoyment in the game so you go have that!