Cultural Exploration: Little White Balls

Culture: Foosball
Values: Sportsmanship, community, kaizen (continuous self improvement)
Types of people: Control freaks, detail oriented, driven,
Places: Sports bars, tournaments, online
Artifacts: Wraps, tables,
Heroes: Jim Stevens, Cindy Head, Jim Wissel, Mike Bowers, Doug Furry, Bob Hayes

In middle school, we would stuff our faces with food as fast as we could and then rush to the foosball tables in the corner of the cafeteria. I’m not sure how we got into the game, but when we did, we were pretty into it.

The interesting thing about the game is that it’s emergence and popularity was completely driven by money (but then, what isn’t these days?). The game came from Germany. When US soldiers were fighting WWI, some of them got to play the game and when they went home, one guy had the idea to import the game.

In the beginning there were two companies that created two different types of tables. One was the Tornado (the kind we see around all the time) and the other one was the smaller, crappier tables where the little guys had blunt feet. The guy who manufactured the crappy tables setup a huge tournament and everyone switched to chase the money.

Tornado Table
Crappy Table

For most of the 70s foosball was huge as the tournaments and awards got bigger. The sport lost out when bars started install arcades instead of tables. And the final nail in the coffin was when organizers failed to pay the winners of this huge tournament that was supposed to revive the sport.

Today, it seems to be on the up again. There was a tournament in Richmond over the weekend with awards in the $10,000 range. There seems to be a clash between the old school players and the newer guys over rules and play. There is also a difference between European and American foosball – one of which is that it’s more of a family game over there while over here it still lives in the bars.



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