After the game is before the game

I heard the phrase once that “school does not prepare a child for the outside world”. This certainly does not hold true when it comes to table football. In the basement of Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge that I came to learn this noble art form, and it was in Mission House that I was able to put my ability into practice.

Like so many of the great games that are revered throughout the world – Chess, Mah Jong, Knock Down Ginger (Belletje trekken) – the ancient art of table football is easy to learn, but difficult to master. It is practically impossible to explain the atmosphere at a table mid-game. One does not merely view a game of table football, but lives in that moment, and experiences the ethereal joy as if it were eternal.

So instead of attempting to describe the impassioned fervour that one experiences table-side, I will give the requisite conditions needed for competition to take place. One should ensure that the company is settled, and in good spirits. The fridge should be filled with previously purchased beer (preferably Amstel). Seasoned pros will have hired a wench to replace the empties with full bottles, prior to commencing play. The table itself should be carefully looked after and cared for, and the rods on which the “players” sit should be suitably oiled. If there is unevenness in the playing surface or a bias towards a corner, the use of beer mats to remove the imbalance is suggested.

Now the stage is set, the players should be invited forward. By its very nature, table football is a communal game, and should not be attempted on one’s own. The objective is to score a total of at least 10 goals, and have a lead of at least 2 on the opponents. Often, close matches will result in the losers offering a rematch, at which point teams should switch sides.

Although table football was played by all members of the house at some point, four of my compatriots were resolute in their determination and will to succeed: Ferdinand, Kim, Robert and Erjo. It was with these four individuals that I was able to reach new-found heights in my own abilities as a table football player. The greatest game in which I myself took part was contested between Ferdinand, Robert, Erjo and myself. The final score was 14-12, but it is now not known who was playing with whom, or even who won.

However, if you do take up this pursuit, and find success comes easily to you, beware of your pride. This most heinous of vices has destroyed the playing careers of many table football players throughout the years, and forced them to the bottle. So, in light of this, I urge you to take the words of Josef Herberger to heart, and to repeat them to yourself the next time you cause the glorious sound of an inch-wide plastic composite ball hitting the metal plate at the back of the goal:

“Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel” – “After the game is before the game”

Iain Proctor

Volunteer 2007-2008