Big Kicks, Little Men

Foosball Takes Over the Pub Scene

By Thomas Sloan

A middle-aged man walks through the haze of a typical bar.  Around his neck rests his well-worn straps, ready for another round.  He looks into his opponent’s eyes and shakes his hand, ready for battle.

When the communist regime in the Czech Republic ended in 1989, a long suppressed need for new forms of creative socializing gelled with a long-standing love of beer and soccer.  A craze was born: Foosball.

Foosball is popular across Europe and the United States. But its exponential growth over the last two decades in the Czech Republic has its roots in the country’s love of sports, pubs, and an effective way of combining the two.

The Ceska foosballova organizace, or Czech Foosball Organization (CFO), was formed on November 20, 1989 – three days after the start of the Velvet Revolution.

“People take the game seriously, which is nice. Games and tournaments are well organized and people care about winning. There is a lot of time and investment in this sport,” said Anna Vesely.

The first tournament was held in 1999 with six teams competing. Fast-forward to 2004, and the Czech Foosball industry had grown to be worth $3.8 – $7.7 million. Foosball, often called table football, is undoubtedly the most popular pub game in the nation and has amassed a huge local following. Today, national CFO tournaments draw over 250 teams.

The Foosball industry makes money by either selling tables to pubs and bars or renting them out.  If rented, the selling company collects the money put into the machine to play, otherwise, the owner of the table can decide how much it will charge for use on the table.

The CFO also hosts smaller scale tournaments for local amateur and semi-professional players. Recently, such a tournament was held at Voodoo Music and Foosball Pub in Prague’s Vinohrady neighborhood.

Amateur players come together at the Voodoo Music and Foosball Pub for friendly matches.[Photo by Thomas Sloan]

Amateur players come together at the Voodoo Music and Foosball Pub for friendly matches.
Photo by Thomas Sloan

When asked about what makes foosball so popular in the Czech Republic, competitor Jan Horak, who manages an electronics store, said, “I think foosball is so popular here because it allows people to enjoy themselves and socialize and then play a game that is challenging both mentally and physically. It is a nice combination.”

If you have never played, Foosball is played on a table-top like apparatus where players control roughly five-inch-tall plastic figures with four metal  rods whose appearance and arrangement is loosely based on actual football, or “soccer” as it is called in the United States.  The figurines are typically red and blue. Goals are scored when one player puts the ball, commonly made of cork or plastic, into the goal of the other player without “spinning” his players over 360 degrees.

The first player to score five, or sometimes ten, goals wins. The length of the game is dependent on the gap in skill between players but generally lasts between eight to 12 minutes. Players can compete in either single or doubles match-ups. Quick reactions, finger finesse and often teamwork are important skills.  It requires more talent than a casual observer might think.

The popularity of foosball reaches beyond the pub demographic.

Anna Vesely, a banker and foosball enthusiast who was at Voodoo said, “People take the game seriously, which is nice. Games and tournaments are well organized and people care about winning. There is a lot of time and investment in this sport.”

Lukas Cerny, a bartender who was participating in the Voodoo tournament, said, “There is a great community here. I love meeting and playing the same people again and again and then having a beer with them after the game regardless of the result.”

“We have more registered players than in Germany,” said Jakub Cmiko of the CFO, referring to Germany as a country with three times the population of the Czech Republic.

The highest level of foosball in the Czech Republic is that of the professionals. The Czech Republic’s highest ranked player is currently Ladislav Krepela, ranked 26th in the world by the International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF). Krepela, 31, who began playing when he was 18, said in an email that “factors such as adrenaline, desire to win, to be better than others, and especially have a good time with friends” are what brought him to the game, and what keep him going.

A close-up of a typical foosball table.  Photo credit:  planetentertainment.com

Fooseball has become a nightlife staple in the Czech Republic. Photo credit: planetentertainment.com

Krepela suggested that he spends much of his time on a game that brings him very little money. But that doesn’t detract from his love for the game, “I think that foosball never stops.  In my life I have offered so much to the game.  So much time, free weekends, holidays, and last but not least, a lot of money. Foosball is above all about having fun, and it gives me strength to keep playing. This sport is not limited by age.”

To learn more about foosball in the Czech Republic, check out the official website: http://www.foosball.cz/. The site also allows you to find and sign up for local tournaments if you are interested in a more hands-on experience. The Czech Cup will be hosted here in Prague on October 26 and the Czech Leonhart Open will take place at Sports Hall TJ Pankrác, Prague 4 on November 22nd.

Thomas Sloan is in the class of 2015 at Wakeforest University. His hometown is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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Categories: Culture, Fall 2013 Issue Number 1

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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