Table football game "Tipp Kick"
Prof. Dr. Eckart Balz / Sports Science
Photo: UniService Transfer

The small portrayal of the big football sport

Sports scientist Eckart Balz on the intergenerational parlour game "Tipp Kick"

On 15 September 1921, the furniture manufacturer Carl Mayer applied for a patent for the parlour game Tipp-Kick. Which game was it?

Balz: Tipp Kick is a real classic. I have my own playing experience with it. It has been a family game for generations, and I used to play it with my brother and also with our children. At the University of Bielefeld, where I worked, it was even a cult game in sports science that was always used on excursions. From a sports education point of view, I would say it is something like football on a small scale: Here, the big football sport is recreated in the format of a parlour game. The idea is that we can play Tipp Kick football at the table at home. Of course, we are in the toy industry with this game. And Tipp Kick is a game that is bought.

What is the difference to the football table?

Balz: Maybe we consider the similarities first: Both are about scoring goals, and also a bit about defence. Tipp Kick has a goalkeeper that you can put on the side as well. And at the football table, I can prevent the ball from hitting there, before the shaft comes. I can do this with the goalkeeper at the back. So the essence of the game of football, scoring goals and preventing goals, occurs in both games. From a purely external point of view, there is already a difference, since I usually stand at a football  tablein the open-air swimming pool or in the youth centre. And there are also two people per team. Whereas in Tipp Kick you usually sit down. We used to play it lying on the ground, which works wonderfully, if you spread out this green area there. But you play one against one.If you look at the flow of the game, I would say there is also a difference in dynamics. The Tipp Kick game is much more about calm precision. You have to hit the ball very precisely. The football table lives more from the speed, it goes back and forth in a rush.

The export merchant Edwin Mieg acquired the rights in 1924 and turned it into a bestseller. Then, a second boom set in after the World Cup was won in 1954. After this World Cup, the goalkeeper was named "Turek" in reference to the football god Toni Turek. But the ball in this game is not round. Why?

Balz: Yes (laughs), the ball in football is round because it is fought for in a rolling manner. And this is purely physical in duels, but also tactically with the better system. Of course, this is difficult to do in an imitated game where, in this case, lead figures clash. That is why this twelve-cornered ball was added as a supplementary idea, with which a different solution was found. It is a halved ball, black on one side and white on the other. And the way it rolls and stays in place decides who has the move. It is not decided by the duel or by team tactics, but by chance. And that makes it interesting.At the beginning, you also have to choose the colour of the ball, which you can do by drawing lots. And this then changes with the side of the pitch in the second half. On the surface, this ensures fairness. In Tipp Kick, something comes to the fore that is not so important in normal football, namely the factor of chance, luck or bad luck. Of course, I also have that in football when the ball goes under the crossbar or bounces on the line and does not go in, that is not controllable. But here, through the rolling of the ball,there is a random factor that I can never plan, when I shoot it into a good position and it does not come to rest on my colour. This makes the element of surprise more important. That is something that has always fascinated people, and that is why the game is still bought today.Besides Toni Turek, there was also Gerd Müller as a cover picture for a while. The success of the game usually correlates with the success of the national team. Sales figures always increase when Germany plays well or wins.

Over the years, the figures have developed into precise kickers, with the right kicking leg now resembling a prosthesis. For what reason?

Balz: Well, you have to say that the supporting leg is of course much stiffer. The figure in the Tipp Kick has a small base at the bottom and attached to it made of lead, which used to be sheet metal, is the supporting leg so that the figure stands. But somehow it has to be shot and what is now called a prosthesis is the shooting leg. The premise it , that it has to be able to swing. Without a swing, i.e. a backward lunge by pulling up this button on the player's head and pressing it down, there can be no swinging movement. But it has to be there so that the ball can be shot.It is interesting to see how today's playing figures have developed, not only in terms of the material, sheet metal/lead, but also in the way the foot is shaped. We know this in all areas of sport, processes of differentiation, and you can also find this in Tipp Kick. The foot is not round, but so finely smooth that it is easier to luff with. It is also more stable, so you can shoot harder with it. Only one figure is used at a time, but you can change it depending on the shot you want to take. The shooting techniques have become fantastically sophisticated and sometimes lead to spectacular goals.

Tipp-Kick is played in leagues modelled on the original football. Since 1959, German individual championships have been held every two years. And since the Women's Football World Cup in 2011, there have also been female figures. What is so fascinating about this finger football?

Balz: Overall, sport is described as a fascination of our time, and we in sports science consider it to be a socially important sub-area. The fascination certainly lies in the fact that, unlike in social life, the psychological demands are pushed into the background and the physical demands into the foreground. You can let off steam, play, forget the everyday concerns, so to speak, and be completely absorbed in the game. You can do the same here on a small scale at Tipp Kick. It is a scaled-down version of the big football game, where you forget about everything else and only get involved in the game. If that were not the case, 40 clubs, a national league and a German Tipp Kick association would not have been founded by now. This social game has been structured and organised accordingly through clubs and associations. Figures such as Turek or Müller also make it possible to actively identify with the sport and its idols. You can also dress the figures in the team colours of Schalke or BVB and break it down from the national level as you like. You then identify with the figures you stand for, with whom you sympathise, and at the table you replay this, so to speak.By the way, we also use it to teach games at university. We have developed a game that we call Blite-Ball, i.e. Black & White Ball. It is a larger foam ball that looks exactly like the Tipp Kick Ball, but is the size of a football. Especially in heterogeneous groups, you cannot just let them play football. But, also with a view to the Master of Education for schools, you have to change the football game so that as many pupils as possible can participate. If necessary, the game is no longer played on a goal but over a baseline, and only the player whose colour points upwards is allowed to continue. In this way, we have re-adapted Tipp Kick, so to speak, and brought it back into the hall. It can be translated back into movement and replayed by the children themselves, which is also very useful in a school context.

Uwe Blass (Interview from 30.08.2021)

Prof. Dr Eckart Balz is head of the Sports Education Department at the Institute of Sports Science in the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences at the University of Wuppertal. In 2017, he took over the office of Vice President for Education at the German Association for Sport Science. His research focuses include planning didactics, school sport research and sport development.

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