A brief look at the history of table soccer and standard foosball rules.
It’s fast-paced, loud and noisy, and you’ll see it played in bars and rec centers around the world.
The game is table football, also called table soccer or, more commonly, “foosball.”
Foosball is one of our favorite bar games to discuss on Bar Games 101.
It’s the perfect game for some lively and fun action among friends at the bar, and it can become highly competitive when skilled players are involved.
In this post, we’ll provide an introduction to the history and development of table soccer, as well as an overview of key foosball rules.
A Brief History of Foosball
The popular game of table soccer dates back as far as the 1890s in Europe, but it was formally patented in the United Kingdom in 1923.
The game drew on the growing popularity of football (soccer, to us Americans) in Europe, and inventor Harold Searles Thornton decided it would be a good idea to make a game that people could enjoy playing in bars or even in their homes.
Another variation on the game, called futbolin, was patented in Spain in 1937.
Foosball made it to the United States in the 1950s and was reaching a peak of popularity in the 70s and early 80s.
By 2002, there was an International Table Soccer Federation in France, acting as an organizing sports entity to promote the game of Table Soccer and establish official foosball rules.
The ITSF set up international tournaments and made the game official with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and General Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF).
An Instruction to the Game of Table Soccer
The game itself consists of figures on rotating bars with hand grips at the ends for the players.
At the beginning of the game, the ball (about the size of a ping-pong ball) is “served” through an opening at the middle of the table.
Players then use the figures on the rotating bars to “kick” the ball into the other team’s goal, which is typically about 8 inches wide.
The rods at each end will usually have one foosman as goalie, while the next row will be two or three foosmen for defense. Some tables allow for a different configuration of a 3-man goalie rod and two defensive players.
Your middle row is the five-man rod. These are your key midfield positions for both passing and shooting. Note that some tables allow for a 6-man rod.
And The last offensive row typically has three foosmen.
The game can be played one-on-one, or with doubles on each side.
As with pool, darts (link) and many other bar games, foosball rules can vary a lot from one locale to the other, or even from one bar or rec hall to the other as they establish house rules.
The following breakdown of rules is fairly consistent across the board, however, and is established by United States Table Soccer Association.
As mentioned, the rules of foosball may vary depending on the venue. But certain rules are widely recognized and should be followed for most games.
For a complete list of official rules, check out the ITSF official rules book.
Also, for a quick summary, here are the condensed rules on behalf of the ITSF.
Yet if you’re looking to get started right way, the following rules will do the trick.
Starting the Match and Serving
To determine who serves the foosball and gets the game going, a coin toss is generally used.
After the first goal, the team that was just scored on is the team that gets to serve and start the next round of play. This is designed to keep the game fair for both teams or opponents.
Following the first serve of a match, subsequent serves shall be made by the team last scored upon. The first serve in subsequent games of a multi-game match shall be made by the team that lost the preceding game.
Ball in Play
Once a ball is put into play it shall remain in play until the ball is hit off the table, a dead ball is declared, time out is called, or a point is scored.
It’s generally agreed across the board that spinning the rod is a no-no.
A player should use wrist strokes to kick the ball or block the opposing side’s kick, but spinning the rod more than 360 degrees before or after the shot is considered illegal.
There can be variations, however, from one venue to another.
Jarring is considered to be a forceful slam of the rods against the wall of the foosball table.
This is a tactic that’s meant to jar the foosball away from the other player’s possession, or just to rattle and distract the opponent or opposing team.
This is a subjective judgment call, as it’s part of the game to move rods back and forth to get the best offensive or defensive advantage, but jarring the rods hard is considered an illegal play.
If you are called for jarring, the opposing team has the option of continuing the current position, play from the point of infraction, or re-serving the ball.
If the ball stops and is between two opposing team rods, the rules call for the ball to be picked up and served again.
The serve will be done by the team that was scored on in the last goal.
If the dead ball is on the defense side of the game table, behind the second bar, it’s up to the defense player to move it back to playing position.
The intent of this rule is to prevent players from forcing a dead ball in order to re-serve.
Out of Play
If the ball hits a top rail and lands in the table area, or comes off the table area completely, it’s considered out of play.
The ball must then be served again by the team that was scored on last.
5 Bar Passing
This is a rule that’s generally applied only to tournament foosball and only applies to the 5 bar and not any of the other foosball rods.
The player is required to pass the ball from the 5 rod to the 3 rod within ten seconds, directly after a serve.
After the initial serve, players are allowed 15 seconds to pass from the 5 bar.
The ball can’t be stopped completely at the 5 bar (aka “pinned”) and passed on to the 3 bar. Tt has to be moving and touch two men on the 5 bar before it’s advanced.
The bar can also only touch the wall a total of two times before touching a man on the 5 bar again, before it’s advanced. It can, however, touch the wall a third time if it’s part of a pass.
Variations on the Table
The standard dimensions for a commercial or household foosball table is 56 inches long by 30 inches wide.
Although this standard size and style of foosball table is pretty common in the United States, other versions of the table can be found in Europe and elsewhere.
For instance, artist Maurizio Cattelan devised a foosball table that’s over 35 feet long and requires 11 competitors to each side.
The majority of tables have an assigned goalie who’s restricted to the last rod at the end, before the goal area.
Some tables are designed with sloping corners to bring the ball to play in case it ends up in the corner and rules prohibit the goalie from putting it back on the table again.
Stay tuned for an upcoming post about foosball table options and specifications.
For now, you should have enough information about foosball rules to play a basic game, so it’s time to round up some friends and head to the bar!