‘Foosballers’ (2019) – a game but not a sport

Foosballers (2019)

Before there was esports and online gaming, there was Foosball, a staple of family rooms, dens, and arcades. Back then in the dorms, it was one of those games you migrated to after you lost at ping pong.

But I digress. In the 1970s, foosball caught on with American teenagers, so that some of them were able to turn professional, i.e., tour the country and play for real money. The first half of Foosballers covers the rise and fall of this period, with a couple of those teenagers still winning today despite being in their fifties. And they are eager to tell the stories of their heyday.

The pro tour was a short run, and shortly thereafter in 1981, the demise of American professional foosball came with the rise of video games like Pac-man. In 2003, the formation of the ITSF International Table Soccer Federation made foosball an international sport, i.e. not one that Americans would automatically win. (USTS US Table Soccer Organization is a member)

The second half of the film covers the participants in the 2016 Tornado World Championships in Lexington, Kentucky. The players are a motley list of American champions: the original foosball bums*, second generation foosball bums, a policewoman, an award-winning cannabis grower, and an anesthetist and his family. The film shows the obsessiveness it takes to be world class in anything.

Is foosball a sport?

First-time Writer-Director Joe Heslinga wanted to make a series about little-known sports. When he came across foosball, he knew he had enough material to make a feature-length film. With the help of kickstarter and a compelling trailer, the story came to fruition. During this pandemic, it was shown on ESPN. The stories are engaging and the film is well done.

But is foosball a sport? Foosball’s world competition feels a lot like… bowling. Or curling. Or cornhole. I have trouble thinking of something as a sport when 50 year olds are beating contestants less than half their age, and when 6 year olds can compete. At least it’s very inclusive.

However, there is one way to prove that foosball is a sport. When EASports comes out with eFoosball, that should settle the question.

For another film about a soccer-related competition, check out Subbuteopia. There is an earlier foosball movie called Foos, but they did not respond to my inquiry. There is also an excellent kids animation film called Underdogs (Metegol) that is  about foosball figures coming to life to help win a football match.

*NB: When I say “foosball bums”, I do not mean it as a pejorative, but as depicting a lifestyle, as when my friends and I referred to ourselves as “tennis bums” or “soccer sluts” because we would play all day and with anyone.

6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6

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