The game of table football, table soccer, or just "foosball" has been around since the 1920s when it was created as a game for home use. It has since grown into an international sport regulated by the International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF).
The ITSF currently recognizes five official tables for international tournament play. They are made by Tornado, Garlando, Bonzini, Roberto Sport, and Leonhart. This should give you some idea of where to start if you are looking for a professional foosball experience.
Professional Foosball Table features
Q: Why are certain tables considered "professional" and are they really worth it?
A: Beyond just general build quality and meeting ITSF specifications for the sport, professional tables include some key features that anyone looking to buy a foosball table should be aware of.
A full-size foosball table is approximately 56 inches long, plus or minus a few inches. We will refer to anything in this range as "full size." A table that is 48 inches long, for example, is noticeably smaller and is a better size for younger players.
In foosball, it is illegal to bump or tilt the table in such a way that it affects play. With lighter tables, this often happens by accident. Especially with four adults playing competitively, a lightweight table can make the game feel unfair and take away from the enjoyment of the game. Look for tables that are over 200 pounds (90 kilos).
Counterbalanced foosball men
What does this mean? If your foosball men are counterbalanced, then no matter what orientation you position the men, they will stay in that position instead of rotating back to vertical under gravity. You will immediately see the importance of this feature when making a long shot with your goalie, for example. Your other men will get in the way of the shot unless you can tilt them horizontal and leave them there.
Side ball returns. In foosball, you play from the side of the table and you shoot toward goals at the ends. Many tables have ball returns at the ends of the tables where the goals are. If you play a few games of foosball or try to do any training to improve your game on these tables, it becomes tiresome having to go around to the end to retrieve your ball. Side ball returns bring the ball to you so you don't have to walk around the table after each goal. They also allow you to position your table close to a wall which is convenient.
Adjustable table legs. It is important that your foosball table always be level during play. Otherwise, a dead ball will always roll in the same direction, possibly favoring one player over another. Adjustable legs have little feet which can be turned to raise and lower each leg individually. Foosball tables can fall out of level after heavy use, so having adjustable legs is convenient. This is a critical feature if your table is going outside.
Modern toe design. The original foosball men had rounded, smooth toes and kicked shiny smooth foosball balls. Newer designs feature pointed toes with a bumpy grip texture and are played with tacky foosball balls for better contact. If you have only ever played on the old style design, you will won't believe the control and accuracy you can achieve with the modern equipment. Pointed, textured toes let you pin the ball to the table surface, pass the ball, and intercept opponent shots reliably. It's like a whole new game.
Foosball Table Build Quality
Q: How can I tell if a foosball table is a quality product before I purchase?
A: Build quality is important, especially if the table is going to be used in a communal environment such as an office, bar, dorm, or tournament room. A Foosball table is not a small purchase and you want it to last. Here are some tips for finding a well-built foosball table.
Foosball tables are typically built out of Medium Density Fiberboard or MDF with a type of laminate veneer. MDF is an engineered wood product, but it is not particle board. If you see what looks like particle board on the underside of a foosball table and the manufacturer says that it is MDF, then the manufacturer is lying. Another term you will see regarding foosball table cabinets is Melamine. Melamine is effectively a specially coated particle board, so the higher-end tables will not use it. If your cabinet is made of a lower density wood, the first signs of wear will usually begin around the goal box as chips and divots in the material.
Thick cabinet walls
The walls around the playing surface should be 1 1/2 inches thick. This does a couple things. Thicker walls will hold together better over time and keep the entire table square and level. This means you won't have to re-level the table as often. Thicker walls will also act as a stronger backboard against shots, keeping the game fast and responsive. On cheap foosball tables, you will notice the ball does not bounce as far off the wall.
Some foosball tables have plastic handles, fancier ones have wood. Plastic or rubber handles can be nearly as good as wood, especially if they are octagonal. However, the temptation for some manufacturers using plastic or rubber handles is to make them friction fit on the rods, and this does not work with wood. Friction fit handles can sometimes slip during play, reducing your shot power. Very cheap ones can actually slip off the rods entirely.
Hollow, lightweight rods
This is counter-intuitive, but you want your foosball table rods to be hollow steel with fairly thin walls. This makes the game fast because you can quickly move your foosball men back and forth to block shots. Some manufacturers will try to cut costs by using heavier, thicker-walled rods made of substandard steel.
Maintenance and Upgrades
Q: What are some easy ways I can upgrade my existing foosball table or improve the playing experience?
A: No matter which foosball table you own, there are some low-cost ways you can make it even better.
- Upgrade to modern tacky Foosball Balls.
- Clean your rods with Foosball Silicone. They will slide smoothly and rotate quickly.
- Handle Wraps and tubes allow better grip. If you think these aren't important, just watch any professional tournament and you will notice every player hand-wraps their rods to get a consistent playing experience.
- Cup Holders and Table Covers. Help keep your table clean by covering it and giving players somewhere safe to put their drink.