More than 50 years of British table football

The British inventor Harry Searles Thornton patented a football table in 1923, although there are other inventors in other countries too.

The first (and indeed only) British manufacturer we know about was a company called Lilliput, whose tables were out around the country particularly in the 1960s.

By the 1970s, the dominant distributor was Brighouse, who imported tables from Italy and put them out across the country. The UK’s first national championship was held in 1970, with doubles won by A. Agrotis and C. Perdikis, with Agrotis also prevailing in singles. At this time, the game was most popular in pubs, universities and colleges.

The UK’s first ‘golden generation’ of players, born in the late 1950s, encountered table football tables in the mid-1970s when it was most popular (although there are many players from before that time, including the great Brian Harms). The most notable champions from that period are Jen Panchal and John Kropacz (who featured in the ITV show “Indoor League”, still on YouTube here).

Later in the decade the American table Tournament Soccer took over, heralding a new generation of players. Greats from this era include Tich Degun & Bruce Jassal, Martyn Harris & Dave Oates, with many travelling to the US to represent the UK in the biggest tournaments in history.

With the advent of pinball and Pacman, table football faded away from the early 1980s, notwithstanding the occasional national tournament on the German table Lowen and a one-off Garlando event broadcast on television during the 1998 World Cup.

Then with the arrival of the Internet in the late 1990s, table football players were able to reconnect and the scene grew again. The British Foosball Association was founded in 1999. It was originally called the Bar Football Association, and was a successor to the shortly-lived British Table Football Association. The International Table Soccer Federation was established in 2002, with the BFA as one of the founding members.

Since turning 13 in the year 2000, Robert Atha has been the UK’s top player and indeed is still today one of the best players in the world, having learned the game from the legendary Tanny Iqbal and others at the Rainbow Snooker Club in Manchester. Rob has won many world championships on a variety over the years. Rob’s father Boris – an excellent (if unconventional) player – was the driving force behind for the BFA for perhaps a 20 year period.

Also starting in this period, Geoff Brice through his company The Table Football Centre put out hundreds of football tables in schools particularly in the west of England. Thousands of schoolchildren were introduced to the sport, with a good number progressing to represent Team GB at the highest level.

In the mid 2000s, table football was a big thing in British universities. Oxford and Cambridge colleges fielded up to 4 teams in intercollegiate leagues; huge communities grew in places like Warwick and Keele. At this time our website (and particularly the BFA forum) was the beating heart of UK table football. Some of the arguments had to be seen to be believed.

With the arrival of the ITSF, the UK started hosting international tournaments, and most of the best players in the world have been through UK at some point, world champions such as the great Frederic Collignon, Jamal Allalou, Thomas Haas, Kevin Hundstorfer, Ryan Moore, Billy Pappas, My Linh Tran and Tony Spredeman.

British teams have performed strongly on the international stage, most notably when Robert Atha and Joe Hamilton won Men’s Doubles at the 2009 ITSF World Cup; Team GB’s Women (2010) and Seniors (2019) have secured silvers. David Ziemann has been a leading senior international player for many years including winning Senior Singles and Doubles (with Tich Degun) at the 2008 World Championships. Darlington schoolboys Callum Oakes and Matthew Warr won the Garlando world championships in 2013. A number of British players have broken into the top ten in the international rankings include Sarah Brice, Stephen Lyall and Richard Marsh.

Since its inception table football has at its heart been a game played locally in the community. The country’s longest-running club is Nuneaton TFC, scoring goals on the table since 1970. London has had many different hotspots over the years, worth of mention are the iconic Bonzini venue Bar Kick, and the countless events put on for many many years by JP Thompson. Manchester and Bristol have strong traditions too.

These days, with the influx of so many people from overseas, the British table football family is nowadays notably international in make-up. We also have a close friendship with the community of players in Ireland.

With no UK-based table manufacturer, British foosball has never had its own ‘home table’. We count national events having been played on 10 different tables over the years including Brighouse, Bonzini, Eurosoccer, Fireball, Garlando, Leonhart, Lowen, Roberto, Tornado, and Tournament Soccer. You can see the list of UK champions since 1970 here.

And this is of course only the history of organised table football in this country!