In 1936, an Anarchist militiaman named Alejandro Finisterre, wounded and left lame by a Fascist bomb during the Revolutionary Catalonia phase of the Spanish Civil War convalesced outside of Barçelona. Many of his fellow patients were injured children who, like him, were unable to play futbol with their friends any longer. Moved by the plight of the kids, and inspired by the game of table tennis, Finisterre devised a prototypical foosball (or futbolín or table football) table made a pinewood and steel poles. Earlier versions of table football had been introduced using crude wooden blocks to paddle the ball around. What Finisterre introduced was the use of realistic carved figures of players that are now synonymous with foosball around the world. (Yes, your humble correspondent did research the rumour that Fletcher Morton Foos invented foosball first — fake news)
Finisterre patented his invention in Barçelona in 1937, but as some of you might know, the outcome of the Spanish Civil War was . . . not good, and Finisterre had to high-tail over the Pyrenees to avoid ending up at the bottom of one of Franco’s mass graves.
In exile, Finisterre managed to complete a philosophy degree, and he eventually found himself publishing a literary journal in Quito, Ecuador. In 1952, he was in Guatemala City, making a bit of money from foosball tables carved out of mahogany, and he even played the game with a young Argentine physician named Ernesto Guevara.
In Guatemala, Finisterre ran missions for the Spanish Republican government in exile, carrying secret documents to Mexico. This put him back on the radar of the world’s nastiest Réal Madrid supporter. After the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954, Finisterre was kidnapped by Francoist agents, and placed on a plane going back to Spain. On the plane, Finisterre went into MacGyver mode, making a hoax “bomb” out of a bar of soap and some tin foil. Shouting “I am a Spanish refugee!” and threatening to blow the plane up, he won the support of the passengers and crew, who allowed him to disembark in Panama as a free man.
Finisterre spent the next 20 years in Mexico City, where he published over 200 books by Spanish and Latin American dissidents. Returning to Spain after Franco’s death, Finisterre spent his remaining decades championing the work of his literary and political mentor, Léon Felipe. He passed away in 2007 just a month shy of his 88th birthday. His ashes were scattered in the Duero River as it flows through Zamora, and into the Atlantic, off the coast of his birthplace at the end of the world, Finisterre.
Today, foosball is enjoyed all over the world by people who want to have the loudest, dumbest thing happen. There’s an International Table Soccer Federation that organizes an annual foosball World Cup, and because idiots looooove online petitions, there’s even a movement to make foosball an Olympic sport.
So next time you’re giving yourself carpal tunnel spinning the sticks, spare a thought for the mad Anarchist poet who invented the game that allows you to spear your friends in the crotch while drinking beer.