Hobbies Include... Foosball

Are people still playing foosball these days? Why, yes, very much so.

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  • Tuesday, 20 September 2016
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Hobbies Include... Foosball
In the first of our Hobbies Include... series, which casts a spotlight on not-so-conventional hobbies, we zoom in on foosball, or more formally known as table football.

Let’s take it back to the beginning

Foosball is thought to have begun as a parlour game in Europe during the 1880s and 1890s. However, nobody really knows how it first came to be. 

A Google search on the origin of foosball will lead you to several stories. There’s one about a French inventor, Lucien Rosengart, who built the game to entertain his grandkids. Then there’s another on Alexandre de Finesterre, a hospital-bound war victim who was so bored, he came up with the idea of foosball. What we do know for sure though, is that the patent for the game can be traced back to 1923 to an Englishman named Harold Thornton. 

In the 1960s, the popularity of the sport in Europe spilled over to the United States. What was initially an arcade game soon evolved to become full-fledged championships, with hefty cash prizes—it reached US$1 million at one point—and Porsches thrown into the mix. But the hype didn’t last and foosball eventually gave way to newer fads such as Pac-Man. Fortunately, the game didn’t die out completely. Tournaments continue to be played around the world, albeit within smaller communities.

Foosball finds its way to Malaysia…

In typical Malaysian form, we caught on to the foosball hype a lot later than our American counterpart—in the 2000s more specifically. It was the equivalent of Pokémon Go among college students of that time—every youngster was playing it! Students in the SS15 Subang Jaya vicinity would hone their skills at Club Seven, Rack Café and Asia Café, whereas those studying in HELP College would make Mags Café in Pusat Bandar Damansara their second home. Another popular foosball haunt was Desa Sri Hartamas’ Breakers. 

Outside of the Klang Valley, the game also found a firm footing in Penang. In fact, the island state gave Malaysia its top player in the form of Shaun P’ng. Though no longer active, P’ng was, during the early 2000s, unofficially regarded by his fellow Malaysian foosers (what you call people who play foosball) as the sifu—a title which he held on to for many years.

… and we got pretty darn good at it!

A successful outing for Malaysia during a 2012 tournament in Taiwan. (Image: Cyrus)
At its peak, Malaysia boasted the largest pool of players in Asia. What’s more, a few of our players also made the Asia top 10 list. According to Cyrus, whose foosball skills have taken him to tournaments in China and Taiwan, “We still probably have some of the best players. That’s the reason why we’re still able to attract a huge number of international players in [the Malaysian] tournaments. They know it’s one of the toughest around Asia. It’s way harder to win here.”

It ain’t just a version of “lazy man’s football”

The general idea of the game is pretty straightforward: you control a series of little men on rods and use them to ‘kick’ the ball into your opponent’s goal. However, make no mistake—there’s nothing lackadaisical about foosball. Despite how ‘easy’ it may appear, the game is not as simple as spinning the rods as hard and as fast as you can with the hopes of landing a goal. It’s far more calculated than that—especially when you’re competing professionally. Fellow fooser Melvin broke it down for us: “It’s like playing chess—with an added challenge of muscle memory. You need to play mind games, read your opponent and make adjustments on the fly in order to win. All these have to be factored in before you make any move against your opponent and you have to be consistent under many forms of pressure.”

Here are some examples of trick shots one can make, as demonstrated by Melvin. (PS: the ball moved so fast, we had to slow the video down to see where it went!)

Although the game may not involve much physical contact, injuries aren’t uncommon. Samantha, who is one of Asia’s top female players, stresses on the importance of having proper body posture lest you want to end up with back ache and a sprained wrist. The rods that stick out of the table pose danger too. Fooser Louis warned, “You should not stand too close to the table as someone could accidentally jam the rod into your body.”

Keeping the ball rolling

While Malaysia is still home to some of the best foosers in Asia, the player base has dwindled over the years. In an attempt to make foosball ‘cool’ again, members of the Foosball Community Malaysia have been hard at work organising game nights as well as conducting foosball classes at orphanages and educational institutions… and the effort is proving beneficial. 

A friendly game of foosball in session. (Image: Foosball Community Malaysia)

Crashing one of such classes at the Methodist College Kuala Lumpur, Rojak Daily spoke to a few new foosball converts. “At first, I thought foosball was lame. Then I tried it and loved it! The loud sound that the ball makes when it hits the metal plate in the goal? It’s satisfying,” 18-year-old Chen Kiat told us. Isaac credits the game for improving his hand-eye coordination, elaborating, “Foosball is a serious thing and should be treated like any other sport”.

Addressing the negative perception that some may have on the game, Meng Wee, 19, who plays an average of six hours on weekdays, deems it a healthy pastime and is not "a pub thing". Oftentimes practising his skills at the foosball table provided at his college, he enjoys the game for its competitive edge. "It’s a proper game of strategy,” he said.

Get in on the foosball groove

Today, the local foosball circle is still very much an active community. If you’re looking to sink in a few shots at the foosball table or maybe have a go at it for old time’s sake, you can head over to Asia Café, SCORE at The Roof, and Taman Desa’s Monkey Bar, where some of the regulars gather—mostly on Friday or Saturday nights.

Image: MIX fm
Also joining in the foosball hype are MIX fm's Aishah and Rod from The MIX Breakfast, who represented Liverpool and Manchester United respectively, in a #MIXHumanFoosball challenge that took place this morning. They were joined by TV personalities, current and former Malaysian football players, plus fans who were keen to have a go at the unique event. Tune in to the show tomorrow to find out which team won!

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