The history of Table Football is as interesting and diverse as the sport's many names. The game is also known as "Foosball," in the United States, which is actually just a perversion of the German word "Fussball," which means football. Table Football is also known as "Baby Foot," especially in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and as "Kicker" in Switzerland, Belgium and Germany.
Like many sports, the history and origins of Table Football (or Foosball/Baby Foot/Kicker) is difficult to determine. It is likely that similar games developed in different parts of the world simultaneously, making it difficult to attribute an exact place and date to the creation of the game. Sports historians theorise that Table Football began in the late 1800s in Europe, and this seems likely, as the first organised soccer leagues developed in the early 1860s.
The first recognised patent for a Foosball table dates back to 1901 in the United States, though it is likely the sport had already been around for 20 or 30 years in Europe. But by all accounts, Table Football only became popular with a mass audience after World War II.
One reason for the game's increasing popularity after the war was its widespread use in assisting the rehabilitation of veterans. Table Football is known to improve hand-eye coordination, and being a very social and addictive game, it was very beneficial to shell-shocked and otherwise disenfranchised soldiers returning to civilised society from the brutality of the war.
Today Foosball continues to be used in physical and social rehabilitation programs around the world. Even many prison systems use the game as part of their social rehabilitation programs.
The first Table Football competitions were organised in Europe around 1950, and the Belgian league was likely the first organised Table Football society in the world. In 1976 the European Table Soccer Union was founded to arrange international competition between the various European nations.
Organisation of Table Football proved to be tricky however, as each country and region preferred its own type of tables, balls, handles, and playing figures. Even today, there is much debate among the various European national leagues as to the exact measurements and build of a "standard" professional Foosball table.
In the United States, there have been organised Foosball leagues since the 1970s, and the sport now supports nationwide annual tours with more than $1 million in prise money. The American and Canadian leagues also have the advantage of using a "standardised" Foosball table throughout all of North America. Obviously, this levels the playing field somewhat, and reduces inter-league bickering significantly.
In Europe, the prise money has yet to reach such exalted heights, but the competition between neighbouring countries remains fierce. Table Football has also spread throughout much of the world these days, with serious competitions popping up in the Middle East, South America, Australia, Japan and Taiwan.
In the future we can expect to see more serious competition from Japan and the Middle East at Table Football championships, as the game increases in popularity around the world. In the United States, it is estimated that 1.9 million Table Football games are played every week. Considering Table Football's history and humble beginnings, it is fascinating to realise that the game is now becoming an international professional sport with high-stakes competitions and championships throughout the world.