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Although patents for similar games may exist from as far back as the 1890s, the game of Table Football as we know it today was first invented by Harold Thornton in 1921 and patented in 1923 (UK patent no. 205,991 application dated 14 October 1921 and accepted 1 November 1923).
The concept was conceived after Harold had been to a Tottenham Hotspur F.C. football match (he was an avid supporter). He wanted to provide a game that replicated football that could be played at home. The inspiration came from a box of matches: by laying the matches across the box he had formed the basis of his game.
His uncle (United States resident Louis P. Thornton, who once in Portland, Oregon) visited Harold and took the inspiration back to the USA where it was patented in 1927 (United States Patent Office No. 1,615,491). The patent eventually expired.
In 2002, the International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF) was established in France with the mission of promoting the sport of Table Soccer as an organizing sports body, regulating international competitions, and establishing the game with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and General Association of International Sport Federation (GAISF).
To begin the game, the ball is served through a hole at the side of the table, or simply placed by hand at the feet of a figure in the center of the table. The initial serving side is decided with a coin toss. Players attempt to use figures mounted on rotating bars to kick the ball into the opposing goal. Expert players have been known to move balls at speeds up to 56 km/h (35 mph) in competition.
Most rules consider "OVER 360-degree shots", or "spinning" (using the palm of the hand to swiftly spin the bar all around, instead of using wrist strokes to kick the ball with a bar-mounted figure) illegal. There are many rules variations – in some variations, the keeper is allowed to spin, in others as long as a goal is scored from a controlled position, rotations of the rod after striking the ball are permitted. Generally, shots short of a full 360-degree rotation before (or after) striking the ball are legal. Since the establishment of the ITSF, the rules have become standardized in most international competitions. However since January 2012, the annual World Championships and the World Cup will permit two full 360-degree rotation.
The winner is determined when one team scores a predetermined number of goals, typically five, ten, or eleven in competition. When playing Bonzini competitions the target number of goals is seven. Table football tables can vary in size, but a typical table is about 120 cm (4 ft) long and 61 cm (2 ft) wide. The table usually contains 8 rows of foos men, which are plastic, metal, wooden, or sometimes carbon-fibre figures mounted on horizontal metal bars. Each team of 1 or 2 human players controls 4 rows of foos men.
The following arrangement is common to ITSF competition tables, though there are substantial variations, particularly in Spain and South America – where the Futbolín table model (or variants) is common and uses a different configuration. Looking from left to right on one side of the table, the configuration is usually as follows:
|Row 1||Goalkeeper||1 foosman (sometimes 2 or 3)|
|Row 2||Defence||2 foosmen (sometimes 3)|
|Row 3||Opponent's attack||3 foosmen (sometimes 2)|
|Row 4||Midfield||5 foosmen (sometimes 4 or 6)|
|Row 5||Opponent's midfield||5 foosmen (sometimes 4 or 6)|
|Row 6||Attack||3 foosmen (sometimes 2)|
|Row 7||Opponent's defence||2 foosmen (sometimes 3)|
|Row 8||Opponent's goalkeeper||1 foosman (sometimes 2 or 3)|
Table football can be played by two individuals (singles) – and also with four people (doubles), in which there are teams of two people on either side. In this scenario, one player usually controls the two defensive rows and the other team member uses the midfield and attack rows. In informal matches, three or four players per side are also common.
Table football is often played for fun in pubs, bars, workplaces, schools, and clubs with few rules. Table football is also played in official competitions organized by a number of national organizations, with highly evolved rules and regulations. Organized competition can be traced back to the 1940s and 1950s in Europe. But the professional tours and big money events began when the founding father of modern professional table soccer, Lee Peppard of Seattle, Washington, announced a "Quarter Million Dollar Tour" in 1976. Several organizations and promoters have continued holding large purse professional table soccer events worldwide.
The ITSF now regulates International events including the annual World Championships and the World Cup. The World Cup was originally intended to coincide with the FIFA World Cup, but since January 2009 it has run annually. In the ITSF World Cup and World Championships 2013, almost 500 players from 30 countries congregated in Nantes, France to compete. Team US produced a tremendous performance and won the World Cup. 
Several companies have created "luxury versions" of table football tables. There was a 7-meter table created by artist Maurizio Cattelan for a piece called Stadium. It takes 11 players to a side. Differences in the table types have great influence on the playing styles. Most tables have one goalie whose movements are restricted to the goal area. On some of these tables the goalie becomes unable to get the ball once it is stuck out of reach in the corner; others have sloped corners to return the ball to play. Another major difference between table types is found in the balls, which can be made of wood (cork in the case of traditional French tables), various forms of plastic or rarely even marble and metal, varying the speed of shots a great deal, as well as the "grip" between the man and the ball and the ball and the playing surface.
Robots designed to play table football by roboticists at the University of Freiburg are claimed to be able to beat 85 percent of casual players. They use a camera from below a transparent table base to track the ball, and an electronic control system to control high torque motors to rotate and move the foosmen. Currently an expert player can beat the robot 10 games to 1. Another table football robot, Foosbot, is claimed to have never been beaten by a human, but has not been tested against expert players. Yet another table football robot is under development by two students at the Technical University of Denmark. The robot uses a camera mounted above an ordinary table.
In popular culture
Table football figures prominently as a Scottish bar sport in the short story "Kingdom of Fife" by Irvine Welsh.
The game has been the subject of movies such as Longshot. The German movie Absolute Giganten features a table football game on film. In the award-winning Italian movie Il Postino, which is set in the 1950s, the eponymous character of Mario Ruoppolo fell in love at first sight with Beatrice Russo while playing table football. In the classic 1993 movie Dazed and Confused, the entrance scene at the Emporium takes Mitch, Pink, and Wooderson through to find Pickford who is playing table football.
Television shows have also featured table football. The characters Monica Geller, Joey Tribbiani and Chandler Bing from the Friends TV show (1994–2004, USA) often play table football. The sitcom featured a Dynamo table in earlier seasons, and later a Tornado (Valley) brand table, each of which were central to many episodes. It was destroyed in "The Last One" by Monica, when Joey's pets (a chick and duck) are stuck inside. In House and in Zoey 101, table football is played by characters in leisure settings. In an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Dr. Forrester and Frank told how they took a table football table, caulked it, filled it with water, and turned it into a water polo game. In the season three premiere of Regular Show, a Foosball table appeared in the back of the thrift store that Mordecai and Rigby were at.
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- "1923 Patent abstract". V3.espacenet.com. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
- "ITSF". Table-soccer.org. 15 January 2007. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
- "table-soccer.org". table-soccer.org. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
- "Patent abstract". www.table-soccer.org. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
- "Patent abstract". www.table-soccer.org. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
- "ITSF – International Table Soccer Federation". Table-soccer.org. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
- Article from New Scientist
- "Top Bots excel at wide variety of tasks". University of Akron. 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- "TeamFoosbot's channel". Youtube. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- Automated table football table project home page
- Longshot (1981, USA)
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