The Table Soccer Phenomenon -Part1

The history of coin operated table soccer can be compared to the growth of an oak tree. Slow. sure and ultimately monumental in stature. From a primitive wooden box, some wooden dowels and a lot of imagination, the European game has developed into a professional piece of amusement equipment today, taking its place alongside the flipper. shuffle and pool table as an industry staple. Further. it has even outdistanced its sister games with respect to fan following. The almost cultish adoration of table soccer found in many communities among young and old players alike may ultimately do more for the public image of the coin industry in general than all the public relations programs rolled up together.

The original game we know as table soccer probably originated in Germany during the late 20's. early 30's. We say ''probably'' because some feel the French were working with such games at the same time. But the game did flower in Germany and became a location staple there years before it made its first timid appearance in the United States.

Bud Wachter of Diverse Products (Red Bank. N.J.). a table importer and a student on the history of the piece. recalls that ''practically every village in Germany has their field soccer team which compares to our sandlot baseball teams. Some of the more organized teams have their clubhouse right at the field or a favorite bier stube (bar) where they gather to celebrate their victories or drown their sorrows for losses. Some enterprising club somewhere in Germany probably decided a game imitating soccer was needed back in the old days. They made one and very soon the idea expanded and practically every club had their 'kicker' game. This name stuck and it's still one of the most common names for the game in Germany.''

The German word for field soccer is ''football'' spelled FuBball .

The funny-looking ''B'' is pronounced like two S's. hence the many corruptions of that word still used in many sections to describe the game. However, the industry seems to be settling on ''table soccer'' as the most common phrase (calling the machine itself a "soccer table'').

The first German soccer tables were very primitive as compared to the present gleaming chrome and Formica offerings we now have on the American market. They consisted of a rectangular box with a plywood playing field. The rods were usually wooden dowels with plain rectangular blocks of wood for figures. The goals were cut out of the end with cloth pockets to catch the balls They were usually made by members of the soccer club or a local carpenter.

In 1948-49 when Germany started its postwar rebuilding process, several firms started making coin-operated ''kicker'' games These offerings were really not a great improvement from the original games because plastics, metals and Formica were channeled to more important uses Eventually there were eighteen different firms making the game They all had their own ideas about how the game should be made. As a result there were all shapes. sizes and playing features until the game evolved basically as we know it today

''During this process many went out of business until today there are only two firms making the games in all of West Germany.'' according to Wachter. At the same time the French and Italians started producing their versions and there are still several models being made in these countries. Except for telescoping rods on the French models and on some of the Italian models, everyone has settled on a game which is basically universal.

The first soccer games were imported to the United States about 1955 but were not readily accepted. Larry Patterson of L.T. Patterson Distributors (Cincinnati) actually made the first major commitment to commercially large distribution of a soccer table he produced in Germany beginning in 1962. Called ''Foosball.'' a name still under Federal registration to Patterson. the machine made some significant inroads on the American coin market. but never to the level that Patterson originally foresaw.

During the 60's. those trade people attempting to establish coin soccer found themselves entrenched in a missionary effort. The game was founded upon a major European sport. but a relatively unknown sport to Americans In later years. players would learn that coin soccer, like shuffle alley. actually had very little to do with the physical disciplines of the sport they were patterned after . that they were games of their own. But. because the soccer table grew so slowly it earned itself an image as "marginal" and as such. was really not taken seriously by operators until the end of the 60's Wachter recalls:

''Distributors and operators remembered the slow startup period which probably contributed to their reluctance to try them again later when an interest did develop. I believe this interest was developed by United States based companies who were involved in selling directly to the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe. The servicemen enjoyed the competitiveness of the game and practically every recreation room had at least two of the games With some 250.000 men returning to their homes each year all over the U.S. it was a small wonder that when the game was reintroduced in 1969 that the game was an instant success in some areas of the country and it has been spreading ever since until now it is one of the most popular and profitable games the coin trade has '' In addition to the coin operated games, many thousands of the non-coin models are going into home recreation rooms.

It appears that this "European import'' is here to stay. especially with almost ten American factories turning them out at a heavy clip The skill. competitiveness and practice required to play this game plus just plain fun and enjoyment assures its future and will eventually make it one of the most popular sports of any we now follow so avidly on TV and other media



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