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What Is Foosball: A Complete Guide To What It Is And How It Works

Introduction to Foosball

Foosball or table football has become a massive recreational activity around the world. Many people choose to play foosball in their spare time and to have some fun with friends. However, when casual players take to the table, you are bound to see some competition and this competition has also led to different rules being made up.

what is foosball

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Foosball is especially prevalent in countries such as the United Kingdom. However, it is also popular in many other European countries where the father of sports football is popular. It can often be found in bars and many recreational places as mentioned. People have to pay a set fee and they have a few games to compete against one another.

However, the average person does not know much about the origins of the sport and that there are competitions. While the first designs were for recreational activities, the game has evolved much like other video games. Nowadays people compete for prize money and to have the best bragging rights. 

Other Names For Foosball

Before we get into the article, you will notice that we refer to different names for the game, While it was ultimately coined foosball due to the German imports, the original name of the game is table football. In the United States, the term table soccer is also widely regarded as an acceptable name when describing foosball.

During the 1930s when the game took popularity in Belgium, one of the supposed inventors also referred to the game as “baby foot”. However, this is not a name that really stuck and the term table football eventually made it around. Nowadays, we all know the game as foosball, and the term is widely accepted around the world.

In a SMITHSONIANMAG.COM publication in 2013, one writer also took the time to mention that the game also has a ring of the mini pool game and it could suggest how the game might have also evolved from the pool game.

History Of Foosball

Before we get into the game itself, it is important that we also look at the brief history of the game and how it has evolved from first being created. This should give you an indication of how the sport works and what the main purpose was. 

Who Invented Foosball?

While statements are referring to the 1890s as the original date when foosball started, it is widely accepted that the game started in 1921 when Harold Searles Thornton was the one who patented the table.

Part of the original Foosball table patent granted to Harold Searles Thornton in 1923
Image Source: Liberty Games

Keep in mind that the table was patented and not the game and it was referred to as “Apparatus” for playing table football.

Keep in mind that a Belgian Magazine also stated that Lucien Rosengart came up with the game during the 1930s when he needed something to keep his grandchildren busy.

However, today most people believe Harold Searles Thornton was the inventor of foosball.
– Jean Whitehead @

Eventually, Lawrence Patterson brought the game over to the United States and while it was not immediately popular, it eventually began to grow in popularity. By the 1970s, foosball had reached the peak of its popularity in the United States. It could be found in many bars and recreational halls as a form of entertainment for the locals.

Evolution Of Foosball

To understand the evolution of the game, we will have to go back to before the patenting of the game started. As you all might know, the game was inspired by football and whether it was to keep the grandchildren happy or to have some fun in bars and local pool halls, the game had to start somewhere.

The First Version Of Foosball

It is widely accepted that the game started when inspiration struck someone from Europe back in the 1890s. Whilst looking at a box of matches, he could see that the matches were hanging off the sides, and when you touch them, you could move them. With a love of football and this new form of leverage, the game was born.

Thornton decided that when you connect these parallel sticks to a set of objects on the table, you should be able to move and control them. By looking at this, he invented the first foosball table and added a ball inside. Eventually, goals were added once the tested theory actually worked and so the game of foosball was born. 

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The Modern Version

To understand the modern version of the game, we need to look back at a man named Alejandro Finisterre. He patented the game back in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War in the city of Madrid. From here it moved to the United States in the 1950s and as we have mentioned, it gained major popularity during the 1970s.

However, the game was often played with rules that each party had made up for themselves. As we mentioned in the introduction, many people played the game for fun and with a competitive spirit, people used many ways to cheat the game. Even though major competitions were being held during the 1970s, a regulatory body was needed.

Fortunately, the International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF) was established back in 2002 and they operate from France and have attempted to promote the game and to bring more interest to it. The committee is also working with the International Olympic Committee and General Association of International Sports Federation.

Having these bodies on board makes it much easier to exercise rules and to control the competitions. Lately, the game has slowly blown up across the world and while it is still mostly a casual competition, it is something that you can now do to win prizes and to even become popular. We only see the game continuing to grow in popularity.

Doubles And Larger Tables

The final evolution of this game is into larger tables and the introduction of doubles. With doubles, two people will be on either side and each of them controls one-half of the board. However, there are also additional boards that can accommodate 11 people on either side. These tables are designed to symbolize the real soccer game as much as possible. 


Rules Of Foosball

Much like any sport, you will have anarchy if you don’t have a governing body. The ITSF is the main governing body of the sport and responsible for all the international competitions that people can compete in. While the rules are not that complicated, there are a couple of rules that have been made to make the game slower and more methodical:

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  1. No Jarring Or Lifting

One of the most important rules to be included is no jarring or lifting of the table. This means that the competitor cannot lift the table to gain a competitive advantage. However, the rule also prevents players from being too hard on the bars and accidentally moving or jarring the table in any direction.

  1. No Spinning

One of the most controversial rules is that the bar that connects to the player on the table is not allowed to exceed 360-degrees. Since this is something that many people like to do, the punishments are severe and the penalty will be loss of possession. The opponent will get the ball on their 5-man rod, which gives them a significant advantage.

  1. Time Limits On The Ball

Since the game is controlled by time, it is best to keep players from holding onto possession. The main time limit rule is that the goalie and 3-man rod may not hold the ball for longer than 15-seconds. This is reduced to 10-seconds once the ball reaches the 5-man rod.

  1. Scoring

Another important part of the game is scoring and it is worth mentioning that scoring works by playing a 5-point game. This means that the first person to reach 3-points wins the game. However, there have been occasions where the game has been played with 7-points. 

  1. No Cursing

We all get competitive and we tend to get frustrated when we lose. However, foosball is different and etiquette has been enforced. has done a good review of the rules and how etiquette can affect your game. Cursing can lead to bad penalties and it is better to keep your bad words to yourself as talking is also banned during the game.

Relevant Competitions of Foosball

Much like any sport, you have to look at the competitions of the sport if you want to get an insight into how popular the sport has become. Foosball is similar to other sports in that competitions have been established with heaps of prize money. Here are some of the most popular foosball competitions you can try your luck at.

Local Competitions

As mentioned in the article, there are plenty of local foosball competitions. The game can be found in many pool halls and other recreational centers. However, these games are often not regulated by the ITSF. However, people try to stick to the same rules and it is good practice for professional competitions.

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Sanctioned Competitions

The ITSF has been running many sanctioned competitions around the world since taking over as the regulatory body. The World Cup and Foosball World Championships are all being run under the same banner of the ITSF. The World Cup is interesting and the original plan was to have it run every 4-years, which will have it coincide with the FIFA Football world cup. However, since 2009, it has been run annually.

ITSF World Tour

The ITSF World Tour is another staple competition that has been running for the better part of the last decade. In 2013, it also included Asian countries and countries like China and Malaysia have been included. The Philippines made their debut in the competition back in 2016, hosting The Manila Bay Open.

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Famous Players of Foosball

The best way to get better at foosball is to study some of the top players. We have done some digging and we have come up with some of the best players you can study and look at if you like foosball. According to a POPEVENTS article published back on August 18, 2016, here are some of the top players in the world.

Frederic Collignon

Frederic Collignon is the only European to have dominated the game on both sides of the Atlantic. He was one of the best players in the world and his reign stretched from 1997 to his retirement in 2012. He has won multiple championships playing both the singles and doubles versions of the game. 

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Kevin Hundstorfer 

Kevin Hundstorfer is an Austrian national and he was one of the youngest players to ever win a competition. While he is still an active player, he now only takes on some of the biggest competitions in the world. 

Billy Pappas

Billy Pappas is a unique and interesting story and he is not as famous for his foosball as for his Poker. He is one of the biggest earners in the World Series of Poker and this has also given him the extra time to play foosball. 

The Future of Foosball

While many people might think that the game of foosball is becoming more digital, this is not the case. A study was done in 2019 by FACT.MR, has suggested that the recreational activity market is growing and during 2019, they had expected a massive increase in the sales and demands for foosball tables

However, the younger generation is moving towards the internet and with so many apps being released and developed each year, it was just a matter of time. Nowadays, casual players can play the game on their mobile devices and even use VR sets if they want to improve their gaming experience.

Fortunately, the game is still played in person and when it comes to competitions, nothing beats playing the physical game. As long as the ITSF keeps competitions as they are, you will continue to see the game being played on the physical boards and tables. We don’t believe that the game is dying anytime soon.

However, the younger generation will have a huge role to play when it comes to keeping the sport alive. During the Covid-19 times, the world has been at a near standstill and this has forced many people to consider alternative forms of entertainment. However, sales are still the same and more people are looking for indoor tables.

The game can still be played with your friends and your family and you can have plenty of fun while honing your skills to become a better player. This video should give you some excellent tips and help you improve your game.
German Foosball Champion answers 10 FAQs of Foosball Beginners


If you want to play foosball, you should take the time and understand the history of the game. While it was a big recreational sport, people have become so good at it, that competitions were inevitable. We hope that this article has taught you more about the game and allowed you to see how the game works best. 


I am Jean, a writer with a passion for outdoor life and sports. I have been playing indoor and outdoor sports for as long as I remember, being fortunate enough to play with some excellent equipment and learning from great tutors. Now, I have traded my equipment for a pen and paper, helping to encourage and educate your sports enthusiasts. I still play a few indoor sports games now and again, but my goal is to help bring more youngsters into the world of sports. More info on my LinkedIn profile -