Football Tables - A Pro-Player's Recommendations

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Type 'Table Football' into E-bay, and you are faced with a bewildering array of tables and claims. I am a professional player and administrator of the game, with experience of playing at the highest level in the UK, Europe and the USA, having played the game for 30 years on a wide variety of tables, and offer my personal view on buying tables for home or commercial use. This does not represent official advice from the British Foosball Association (BFA) or International Table Soccer Federation (ITSF).

Question 1 - What/who is the table for?
(a) Young children (4-8yrs) - there are plenty of cheap tables around, but the Monneret make tables designed for children, and have held junior championships via the Football Association community programmes at league clubs. Cheap tables tend to have flimsy rods which bend or break easily, be satisfied that the rods are strong enough to stand up to use - and abuse. It is enough to see if they enjoy the game and if so, consider buying an better table by the time they are 8 or so. Full-sized tables may be unsuitable, particularly if junior's eyes are at or below rod-height (about 4ft tall), although one 7 year old competitor at the world championships last year had a box to stand on. Avoid the temptation to get a table endorsed by Junior's favourite footballer, as the quality is usually non-existent, as are most tables sold by supermarkets or sporting goods stores. If Dad (or mum, or elder siblings) want to play as well, pay more to get a decent quality homeplay table (e.g. Garlando G500) to avoid tears when the christmas present falls apart.
(b) Older children (9-16 years) - most of the top players started playing competitively in this age range. If you buy a cheap table, chances are your money will be thrown away as either the rods will bend, or the table offers no opportunity to develop skills (e.g. slippery surfaces or badly-designed player-figures). Many of the recognised manufacturers produce decent-quality home-play tables (e.g. Garlando G100/G200/G500/G5000, Tornado Whirlwind, Storm, Cyclone, Jupiter Homesoccer).
(c) Schools, colleges and workplaces - these tables can take quite a battering so stick to reputable brands. Most coin-op tables can be set to a range of prices to suit local pockets, or to freeplay as required.
(d) Pubs & Clubs - if the table is in a supervised area, an open-top table (coin-op or freeplay) offers better visibility and is likely to be played more frequently than a glass top. In an unsupervised location a glass top is preferable to avoid stuffing the goals to avoid payment (common) or ball theft (rare).

2 - What are Professional Tables?
Many tables claim to be professional tables, and most do so fraudulently. Professional tables are built to high standards of play, and are those used in official tournaments of the British Foosball Association in the UK, and the International Table-Soccer Federation (ITSF) internationally. Only the following brands and models are official or recognised tables of the ITSF, and hence worthy of the descriptor 'professional'.
Official ITSF Tables - these are the best of the best, eligible for International tournaments including World Championships Series (Grand Slam equivalent).
Tornado - Coin-op TP2000 (open top, through rods, wedge-shaped feet, 3 men on goalie rods - no corner ramps) - Regular tournaments in the UK
Garlando - Deluxe World Champion (open top), WC Olympic Silver (glass top), both with through-rods, and rounded (not square) feet, also Master Champion & Pro Champion freeplay models - Regular tournaments in the UK
Roberto-Sport - This company have introduced (2008) two new ITSF tournament models, the Adrenaline (freeplay) and Kombat (coin-op) - both now have through rods and laminate playfields with no side-ramps allowing bank-shots (off the wall shots), but retaining the rounded feet. The International Champion (open top - telescopic rods, rounded feet) is no longer ITSF spec, but is a huge improvement compared to their commercial block-foot tables. Their commercial models tend to have square feet and a slick glass playfield and are not of a professional standard.
Bonzini - B60, B90, Stadium (telescopic rods, open top but glass option available) - Occasional tournaments in the UK - Note new models have flat sides to the player feet, replacing bevelled sides on older models. Note that in 2007 the traditional cork balls have been replaced with yellow rubbery-plastic balls with 'ITSF' imprint
Leonhart  German-made table with similar design to Lehmacher (both of which are descended from Tournament Soccer (1970s) and Löwen (1980s/1990s) professional tables) - became an ITSF recognised table in November 2007

ITSF Recognised Tables - These are tables recognised for International Competitions at Master Series or Pro-Tour level
Fireball  - Chinese-made table awarded ITSF-recognised status in 2009 and official status in 2011 - Similar style of play to Tornado, favoured by snake-shooters, but also suited to a European style.  Note that with coin-op tables the older (drawer cabinet) style tables are less valuable than newer (split-cabinet) models.  Watch for worn out rubber-bumpers and handles, and defects to the play field with older models.
Warrior - An American company which makes tables similar in style to Tornado, but with easy assembly and safety-sleeves for the protruding through-rods.  Became an ITSF recognised table in 2012. 

Other Professional-Quality tables
Rosengart (Czech Republic) became a recognised ITSF table in 2006 - through rods, wedge-feet, sandblasted-glass playfield - open top but glass option available - rarely found in the UK
The  Lehmacher - Tec-Ball  (open top) became an official ITSF table in 2006 but was replaced by Leonhart in 2010 - through rods, open top but glass option available. Older Lehmacher tables are very similar to Löwen tables which may appear secondhand. ITSF-spec Lehmacher Tec-Ball tables have hollow rods, rather than the heavy metal rods on older models. Lehmacher also manufactured tables for the Players4Players German professional tour before their current provided  Ullrich Sport .
Jupiter - Eurosoccer  (through rods, wedge-shaped feet open top but glass option available) - One tournament in the UK - Previously an official ITSF table, then an ITSF-Recognised table but withdrew from ITSF in 2010, also make excellent balls - www[dot]jgc[dot]be.
Sardi Sport  Sardi have produced a tournament-quality table, the Sardi Sport (through-rods, rounded feet, laminate playfield) which was awarded ITSF Recognised Table status in 2009.
FAS National Team - Professional-quality models aiming to meet ITSF criteria but not yet sanctioned as official or recognised tables.  FAS Tournament tables are decent-quality freeplay models but check they have wedge-feet rather than block-feet before parting with any cash.  When you hit the ball had with block-feet FAS tables the ball tends to rise and 'hit the bar' rather than enter the goal!
Lowen - Now defunct, these German tables were used on the professional tour in the 1980s and 1990s, now superceded by Lehmacher/Leonhart which have very similar designs

Any advert claiming any other brand of table to be 'Professional' is misleading and should be reported. In most cases what they mean is 'commercial' as in coin-operated, as opposed to 'domestic' or 'freeplay'. Beware of sellers falsely-claiming their to be 'professional' - those selling 'Harvard' tables in particular - any who continue to list their tables as 'professional' or 'professional quality' are misleading their customers.

3 - What should I look/ask for when buying a table?
Always check the rods are smooth, that no players are broken, and that all mechanics (ball return etc) work OK. Check the playing surface for damage, depressions or a dead-feel (if laminate), and the cabinet for any signs of warping.  Check any rubbers are intact (not cracked or missing) and that handles are securely attached to the rods.
Coin-operated tables tend to hold their value better than domestic tables, and tend to be more stable (due to additional weight) and more resistant to shocks and jarring.

4 - What are the Major Table Brands

Garlando - older models have square feet which restrict the level of ball control, most tables sold in the UK have telescopic rods which are prone to seize up if bent, but offer additional safety if there are young children present. Tournament-standard models have through-rods, rounded feet, and a sandblasted glass playfield, with wooden-plastic (cylindrical) handles rather than the 'toilet-pull' tapered plastic handles seen on cheaper models. Guide prices for secondhand models - G200 £120, G500 - £150, G1000 - £200, G5000 - £300, Coperto-Deluxe or Competition - £150-£350 depending on age, condition and specification. Olympic £250-£350 (depending on spec), World Champion £300-£500 (older World Champions have rectangular metal goals, these were superseded in 2007 by moulded plastic goal surrounds which reduce the incidence of 'slop' goals.
When bidding for a Garlando, always ask whether men on table have square or rounded feet, whether rods are telescopic or protrude through the table, and whether the goalmouths are metal or plastic. Square feet and telescopic rod tables are a sign that the table is older, round-feet (preferably with through rods and plastic goalmouth) will be newer and can be worth up to £50-£100 more than the square-foot equivalent.

Other Italian Tables
FAS/Jacques - normally have slick-glass or laminate playfields which are very slippery and make it difficult to learn controlled shots, telescopic rods which hamper defending passes, and the rods are slightly too close to the playfield, meaning many shots can hit the crossbar or the rods themselves. Tend to be more expensive than the equivalent Garlando model, so you don't always get what you pay for. Very solid and generally reliable, but rod-linings can deteriorate with age. Note FAS is developing a tournament-quality table, the "National Team" which is awaiting ITSF approval.
Longoni/Norditalia make decent outdoor tables, but their indoor tables seem flimsy by comparison to Garlando/Fas
FABI - decent quality Italian tables, normally with sandblasted glass, but with old-style square-feet and horrible semicircular goals.
Roberto-Sport - Most of the tables sold in the UK have slick glass and old-fashioned square feet, will stand up to a kick-around but not so good for developing skills. Their laminate surfaces on cheaper homeplay tables are to be avoided. Their ex-ITSF International Champion (open top coin-op) or ex-ITSF home play version (College Pro) have sandblasted glass and rounded feet, and are a good option for a decent and inexpensive telescopic-rod table, but are rarely found on commercial sale in the UK.
Sardi - probably the cheapest of the Italian brands, square feet, laminate or glass playfields. Problem with most of their range is the springs at the sides of the rods are way too long, which hamper defending any passes (you should always be able to (just) trap the ball between the wall and the nearest man). Sardi have produced a tournament-quality table, the Sardi Sport (through-rods, rounded feet, laminate playfield) which is awaiting ITSF recognition.

Tornado - High quality professional table, notable for having 3 men on the goalie rods instead of corner-ramps - not seen that often, maybe 1-2 a month on ebay, check condition of playfield, no dead spots or warping. Bearings, rods, rubbers and broken players are replaceable, a knackered playfield is not. Guide price £250-£600 depending on age and condition. Older tables (pre-98) have brown marble finish, good quality control. Teak-effect veneer (98-02) can suffer chipping to the goalmouth, walnut veneer (2002-3) and grey marble (03-07) cabinets are better quality and brushed aluminium cabinets (2008-present) the newest. Check the balls supplied with the table are genuine - Tornado balls should be pink, with a rough, almost fluffy surface when new, very hard and pefectly round (approx 27g).  Tornado withdrew from being an ITSF table in 2010.

Alternative high-quality US-made tables include Legend and Shelti, neither of which are yet found in the UK

Warrior - This is a similar table to Tornado which is now being used for tournaments in the USA, not yet available in Europe, now recognised by ITSF.

Bonzini - these tables last forever, the metal men are almost unbreakable, but the rods can be bent and stiff, and the playfield can get pitted and deformed. Guide price £300-£800 depending on model and quality.
Other French-style tables - These have linoleum pitches and use cork balls. Sulpie make high-quality tables similar to Bonzini, the build-quality of Rene Pierre tables tends to be inferior, I have not tried Stella or Petiot tables yet, so cannot comment, but Bonzini is the official table of the French federation.

5 - Balls Having the right balls makes a big difference to playability. Hard plastic balls found with most tables, or worse-still the soccer-effect balls, are very slippery and difficult to grip or control. Tornado, Leonhart, Roberto-Sport, Garlando and Bonzini all have their official balls which offer good, but differing levels of control and grip. Most Italian tables can be improved by buying decent balls which provide some grip (e.g. Barenherz Magic Ball (yellow with rough surface), Leonhart (white rubbery plastic), ITSF Bonzini (soft yellow plastic) or Eurosoccer balls (yellow with smooth surface)), rather than the hard plastic balls (orange or white) most widely available (and offered on e-bay). Barenherz Magic Balls used to be the official ball of the Garlando World Championships, but are now replaced by the ITSF pro-play ball.

6 - Tables to think carefully about before parting with cash:
Harvard - this table is something of a laughing stock among serious players, good for firewood. The design of their american-style table looks like a Tornado, but the surface is very slippery, and the feet of the men have a strange design which makes most standard shots very difficult - difficult to give away secondhand. Have not tried their French-style table yet, so unable to comment.
Sportcraft - cheaply-made cabinets, heavy, excessively heavy rods, but player design and slick playfield make standard shots and control impossible - very poor quality
BCE - Looks like a Tornado but a very poor quality imitation, playfield is not flat, so ball rolls around and is difficult to control.
Bulldog - not tried any of these yet, so difficult to comment, appear to be cheap imitations of reputable brands. Buy it Now Prices cheap, but probably not cheap enough.

7 - I've bought my table, what next?
If you want to learn to play properly, join the British Foosball Association (britfoos dot com) and find your nearest club (or form your own club) and come to tournaments. The BFA Website has official rules, playing tips and a lively discussion forum for players to hook up. Most tournaments have events for novices/rookie players as well as for the pros, and women players are usually catered for with womens singles/doubles or mixed doubles, with junior (under 18 ) and senior (50 plus) events at selected tournaments. Tournaments often have DYP (draw your partner) events pairing players from a hat, giving beginners the chance to partner with pro-players. In the UK there are several national ranking tournaments a year, the majority on Leonhart or Garlando (the most popular), with occasional events on other official ITSF tables. The BFA can provide experienced tournament players for 'beat the expert' promotions, and assist with organising other local or commercial events. There is a national 'handicapped' league championships for clubs, and regional championships based on smaller local events to boost competitive play at a grass-roots level. In addition, there is a network of venues and over 30x clubs around the UK where players can get some competitive games in their local area:

Internationally, the ITSF (International Table Soccer Federation - table-soccer dot org) has a world tour including events on all official tables, with the inaugural ITSF World Cup of Nations held in Hamburg, Germany in May 2006, and Nation Cup team events now held at all 'Grand Slam' tournaments. The ITSF has over 50 member countries in all continents, with links to member federations. Manchester's Rob Atha is currently ranked (Nov 2013) No. 1 in the World singles rankings, in 2007 London's Dave Ziemann became the first World Senior Singles Champion, and World Senior Doubles Champion with partner Tich Degun. At the World Championships held in Nantes, France from 8-12 January 2009 Rob Atha and Bristolian Joe Hamilton won the World Doubles title, in 2013 Darlington's Matthew Warr and Callum Oakes won the World Junior Garlando Doubles title.  Britain currently boasts 3x women players (Sarah Brice, Ola Lasecka and Jody Walding) in the World top 10.
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