History / Movie Review

Foosballers: The Movie

The difference between a person who owns a soccer ball and a person who knows how to kick one properly is large.

The difference between that second person with a moderate amount of training and someone who plays soccer at any organized and competitive level is even larger.

The difference between that person with experience and a paid professional, a true and honest craftsman, is all but immeasurable.

This is as true in soccer as it is in any profession…

Even foosball.

Foosballers

Foosballers is a movie about six professional foosball players and their quest to win the modern game’s World Championship.

Author’s note: The reader is forgiven for not knowing about the World Championships of foosball, even in a world where The Ocho exists and sports fans have been watching marbles race down mountains in place of their beloved teams.

It’s also a movie about the history of the sport, from its humble beginnings, through its ascent to becoming the eighth most watched sport in the United States, and on to its eventual demise amid the rise of the video game and struggle for relevancy in an ever-crowding sports landscape.

In short, Foosballers is everything you need to know about foosball.

The film is well crafted and frankly exquisitely shot, and the 90 or so minutes it takes to navigate is truly compelling for two primary reason.

The first is an historical one.

Foosball is a game with all but global ubiquity, from basements to bars, arcades to game rooms: it’s a safe bet that every reader of this page has played foosball more than once. Yet few casual foosball players likely know that in the game’s heyday there were tournaments with four-figure purses every week across the country (four figures in 1970’s dollars), nearly a dozen competing table manufacturers all vying for primacy, or that the sport’s championship tournament had at its apex $1,000,000 in overall prize money. This movie tells the story of small soccer in a way that is equal parts mesmerizing, charming, and impossible to believe.

The second is a personal one.

In order to tell the sport’s history, Foosballers of course focuses on the lives and arcs of the sport’s players.

What would the history of soccer be without Pele? The same as the history of foosball without Todd Loffredo, of course.

Since foosball as a professional competition is as niche as can be, many of the sport’s originals still act as primary sources in the film to tell it how it was back then (Loffredo included) and because of the nature of the game, are still fit enough to compete today. It’s fascinating to listen to the opportunities the sport presented as it began to emerge and how these player’s lives were impacted. Like any hero story, there is also an inevitable emptiness left when the sponsorships dried up and the money stopped coming in.

The younger players who are featured, as well as many others who aren’t, take the mantle because of an obsession with perfection, the sport simply an output to that irresistible neural input. Thus, the bridge between the old and the new is a reoccurring theme, the idea that a young lion has to defeat an old one to become the alpha of the pride.

The film culminates in such a showdown.

Summary

Foosballers inhabits the same space that movies likeĀ “The King of Kong” (a piece about the elite sphere of competitive Donkey Kong players) or “Riding Giants” (about the history of surfing) do: a documentary about the people who seek perfection in a pursuit most others view as definitively peripheral.

Given the topic matter, it frankly would have been easy to make this movie with one’s tongue planted firmly in one’s cheek, a “Best in Show” for tiny wooden figures and their handle-flipping puppeteers. The reason why this film works is precisely because it doesn’t do that.

This is a film about the pursuit of irrational perfection, of subtlety, of craftsmanship, a film about the unpredictabilities of a hobbyist’s passion, a film about the changing priorities of growing up. Before your calendar is full of sports in empty arenas, watch this.

After all, “a foosball table is an odd thing. It’s like, if you gave somebody a guitar, would they know what to do with it?”

Foosballers is available to buy or rent on several streaming platforms.

3 Comments

  1. Tim Jones says:

    Apropos of nothing, did you realize that at the court of Japan’s emperor during the Fujiwara era when the capital was at Heian-Kyo something very much like Hacky-sak was de rigeur for a male court noble?

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    I watched this while I was out of work, back in May. It’s everything described above: fun, interesting, entertaining. It’s an easy watch. Quick story: I mentioned this to my dad and he graduated high school in 1973 and moved to Texas for about a year. He saw the rise of this game and when he came back to Philly, he and a friend of his got really, really good. According to him, “there was only one of other pair of guys that could beat them.” He never went past playing guys in the bars, but I do remember when I was younger and if we were ever near a table, seeing him play, and he was pretty good. Just a neat connection to the game I thought about, after talking to him and watching the movie. Definitely check it out.

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