Every time you say "foosball," you're putting a foot in your mouth-a German foot!
Foosball is the American corruption of fussball (pronounced the same), the German word for soccer-literally foot plus ball. While the sport has the more formal name of table soccer, to the American players who love it, it's foosball, or just foos.
Unfortunately, the origins of the game are not as easy to trace as those of its name. Like many games, it is quite possible that variations of foosball developed in different countries over roughly the same time period. Since organized soccer first entered the sports scene in the 1860s, the invention of soccer's table version can be safely dated sometime afterward, probably in the late 1800s. The earliest United States patent for a foosball table was registered in 1901, but it is generally agreed that foosball, like soccer, originated in western Europe.
A recent article in a Belgian magazine (Le Soir Illustre, No. 2471, November 1979, p. 26) stated that the inventor of the first foosball table was a Frenchman named Lucien Rosengart, who lived from 1880 to 1976. An employee of the Citroen automobile factory, he amassed a huge fortune through his inventive genius. He is accredited with the invention of the minicar, frontwheel drive, and the seat belt, to name a few, besides babyfoot, the original name for foosball.
One of the oldest manufacturers of foosball is a Swiss company called Kicker, located in Geneva. Its table is also called Kicker and has been so popular in Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium that the word has become generic: kicker is to these European players what foosball is to Americans.
In European countries as well as in the United States, foosball did not become widespread until after World War II. One popular belief is that foosball was invented to help rehabilitate war veterans. While not invented for that purpose, foosball has been used in rehabilitation with great success, especially in rebuilding handeye coordination. Today foosball also plays a role in social rehabilitation, being a part of the recreational programs offered by many state and federal correctional institutions.
American servicemen are responsible for another common belief, one that has haunted American players for a long time. After being stationed in Germany, servicemen have often come home with tales of German foosball players who are so incredibly good that they could beat any American. During our first years of professional competition in the early 1970s, the prevalence of this idea irked many dedicated American players. We were getting so good-how could they be better?
Competition in Europe, compared to the United States, has been organized for a long time. Belgium leagues, for instance, were organized as early as 1950. It wasn't until 1976, however, that the European leagues from different countries finally united to form the European Table Soccer Union (ETU) and competed against each other in the European Cup, now an annual affair. Unification is still a big problem for European players. There are many different table brands, and each country naturally prefers its own. The shape of the playing figures, the size of the handles, and the composition of the balls varies from brand to brand, making it difficult for players to switch from one to the other.
As good as the Europeans may be at their style of play on their own tables, the Americans have one thing that they don't: a pro tour with a million dollars in prize money. Foosball competition in Europe has remained on a very small scale in terms of prize money. With the introduction of the American table, players in Europe are being brought together, playing more and more on the American table and using the American rules. They have an incentive: the American prize money!
The $250,000 World Championships in May, 1979, welcomed the largest European delegation ever-thirtysix players from England, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland. Disagreements between Americans and Europeans were inevitable, and most disputes concerned the rules. Once an official and a translator arrived at a table, however, it was often discovered that communication was the only problem. By the end of the tournament, transatlantic friendships had been formed and the Europeans' skill at the table had won the respect of many American players.
Foosball is played all over the world. It can be found in the Middle East, North Africa, South America, Australia, and Tahiti, as well as in Europe, the United Kingdom, and North America. Two foreign countries who recently expressed the desire to participate in American tournament competition are Argentina and Japan. Don't be surprised if you see teams from these two nations at the World Championships in the near future.
What lies ahead for foosball? This question can be answered in one word: more-more players from more countries, competing at more tournaments for more prize money. A recent study revealed that every week 1.9 million people play a game of foosball-in the United States alone. The cause of the phenomenal growth of the sport in the United States during the last decade is no secret: someone took foosball, the tavern game, and turned it into a big money professional sport.