As with most games like this, foosball has had a weird and somewhat murky history, full of stories you probably don’t know about the game.
Here are some of my favorites.
The Unknown Origins
Most sports have well documented origins, or at least a strong connective tissue of speculations that add up to a fairly coherent story.
Interestingly, this is not true for foosball. Not even the exact time of its creation is known with any certainty. It’s suspected that the game dates back to the 1880s, but it was never patented until the early 1920s.
As a result, the creator is unknown, so it’s often credited to that original patent owner, a British man named Harold Searles Thorton.
However, it’s almost certain the game didn’t begin in Britain, as both a Spaniard (Alexandre de Finasterre) who claims he lost the paperwork and a Frenchman (Lucien Rosengart, famous for inventing many car related innovations, including the seat belt) have a claim to inventing the game before that patent was filed.
Even stranger, the name comes entirely from German, “fussball” simply being the German name for soccer.
It is also in Germany where the story of foosball continues…
Coming to America
Wherever its true origins lie, we do know that we have Germany to thank for the game coming over to the United States. During the 60s, the game was quite popular in Europe, and one Lawrence Patterson fell in love with it while stationed in Germany during a military tour.
He can be credited for introducing the coin operated foosball tables to the US, and bringing about its surge of popularity that it maintained well into the 70s.
Patterson was also responsible for starting many of the American professional foosball leagues in the mid 1960s.
Interestingly, rules and regulation of the game, modifications were made in the translation to the American market, for whatever reason. European tables by this point were well established to have only a single goalie, while the newly minted American tables had a total of three goalies, perhaps making the game a bit more accessible to newcomers, and putting a more defensive focus on the game.
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While internationally, foosball leagues have existed since the 1950s, it didn’t catch on in the US until the 60’s, as mentioned above.
The popularity growth was a bit of a slow burn for a while, until the first tournament was held in 1972. These tournaments slowly became higher profile and more lucrative as time went on, culminating in a historic 1 million dollar tournament in 1978, which pretty much marked the peak of popularity for the game.
As with all fads, the foosball craze died down after a while, to be overtaken by a new (and far more pervasive) game related fad: Pac-Man Fever. Pac-Man kickstarted the arcade craze, which pretty much killed widespread interest in the game of foosball.
World Record Holders
Despite the rapid decline in popularity, foosball has never quite faded from the public consciousness, and a few strange world records have been broken over the years. Even more oddly, the two most prominent ones were both made in Italy.
One is the ludicrously expensive foosball table manufactured for the 2008 Milan furniture fair, called “11 – The Beautiful Game”. Made of onyx and chrome, these tables were hand made in a limited edition numbered run, initially selling for 48, 500 Euros ($58, 549).
These tables are actually still manufactured by the same company, though if you’re looking to order one, be prepared to pay out the nose; they’re almost double the cost they used to be, clocking in at an astounding 85, 000 Euros ($102, 612) per table.
A similar custom made table was made for a charity event in Turin, Italy in 2015. This table is a massive 121.4 meters long (or about 400 feet!) and was designed to be played by 424 players simultaneously; you can imagine that the games played on this field (it’s difficult to truly call it a “table” after all) must have been pretty crazy!
Switching over to length in regards to time, the world record for longest game of foosball ever played is a ridiculous 61 hours and 17 minutes long. A doubles match, specifically, played by four Austrians played for over two days straight in 2012 to put this record on the books, displaying impressive endurance and dedication to the game.
Foosball is a game that can easily be picked up. Anyone can make amazing trick shots, and there is still an opportunity to engrave your name in history by setting foosball world records.