Beyond Billiards: Foosball

It’s the perfect game for small spaces, one-on-one matches, bar-time fun or even a kitchen table (thanks to “Friends” for introducing this idea). For this installment of Beyond Billiards, we’re diving into this fan-favorite — foosball.


Games like the foosball we know today date as far back as 1890, but in 1921, Harold Thornton of the U.K. invented the game in its current form. Thornton came up with the idea for foosball – or table soccer as it’s sometimes known — after attending a Tottenham Hotspur F.C. football match. His goal? To create a football (or soccer, to our American readers) match that could be enjoyed at home. His uncle, Louis P. Thornton brought the game to the United States where it was patented in 1927 – and the rest is recreation history!


The game starts by serving the ball through a hole on the side of the table. The first serve is decided with a coin toss (or your favorite deciding method). Players then use the figures mounted on the rotating rods to kick the ball to the opposing goals.

Most rules consider spinning (where the player spins the bar all the way around instead of using wrist strokes to kick the ball) illegal. However, there are a number of house rules that you can choose from as a variation. Some allow the keeper (the goalie for those not fluent in soccer lingo) to spin, others allow it if the goal is scored from a controlled position. You can also allow a set number of spins per game. Curious as to what constitutes an illegal spin? Check out this helpful video here:

The victor emerges when one team reaches a predetermined number of goals, typically 10.

Foosball can be played as a singles game (two individuals) or as a doubles game (with four people), with teams of two on either side. When playing doubles, one player controls the two offensive rows and the other controls the defensive rows. However, if you want a more casual game, you can cram up to four people on a side for more fun!

Pop Culture References:

  • Friends: One of the most popular show on TV from 1994-2004 featured a foosball table, which Joey and Chandler kept in their kitchen—mainly used for sport, betting or fun but also used as a dining table.
  • Longshot: Forget Pinball Wizards, this 1981 movie starred Leif Garrett as a young foosball player trying to earn big money by winning the foosball world championships.
  • Community: In season 3, episode 9, Shirley teaches Jeff foosball so he can beat a team of obnoxious opponents. Watch the episode here


For more information, visit:

The International Table Soccer Federation

Wikipedia: Table Football

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