Championship Report: 2016 Foosball World Cup from Vilnius, Lithuania

Between the 8th April 2016 and the 11th April 2016, myself, Steven Kerr, Patrick “PJ” Tebble and George Stuart embarked upon a treacherous voyage to Lithuania. We represented the last vestige of British sporting pride. Our battleground: the Foosball table.

Upon arrival in Vilnius the welcome party picked us up and took us to our accommodation and training facilities in the Olympic Village. The training ground had seen better days; all that was left was a rusty swing and a homeless guy foraging through the bins. Our hosts had even failed to prep our room with a Foosball table. Gamesmanship? I wouldn’t put it past those sneaky Lithuanians.

Artist’s impression of our host, who shall remain unnamed.

We could live without a table. By this point in our careers our muscle memory had grown to be near immaculate. We could train with knives and forks tied to dental floss in the kitchen sink if need be. However the crueller hazing from our former Soviet keepers came by way of forcing four grown men to share two sofa beds. Despotic.

The first night on a major tour is always the trickiest. The team is still trying to bond, no-one quite knows whether they can drink the tap water, and distractions abound.

Our team togetherness was tested early on as we had to solve the mystery of a bedroom window that decided to detach itself entirely from its frame. Luckily the cooperation skills we had learned from our Winter warm up tour to Sweden, and in particular our time spent in the hallowed Room Escape chambers of Stockholm, had prepared us well, and we soon found our abode 100% windowed once more.

Having negotiated this quagmire, our next speed bump came when we were next accosted at dinner by a regular “French” lothario, deadset on converting us to his sordid ways, trying to feed our manly temptations with his promises of “loose sluts”. Well, this ain’t the Leicester City Football Club pre-season tour to Thailand, buddy. You can’t catch us off guard with your scandalous schemes of tabloid entrapment. No sir-ee.

The challenges continued to mount, but with every rising hurdle we grew stronger as a unit, mentally and physically, literally.

PJ ponders the challenges that await us

Day 2 of the tour would see our first matches of the tournament (we humoured a couple of local Div 2 amateur teams on our first night, just to get our wrists wristy). But our preparations were torn asunder when we all awoke with gall bladder shredding hangovers. The fiendish Lithuanians had no doubt spiked our lager shandys.

As Muhammad Ali once said, “it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.”

Wise words, and fully applicable here. We may be blessed with supple knob-twizzling wrists, but we have the hearts and minds of fighters.

“A Foosball player’s hands must be strong enough to hold a Cat’s Cradle that children can frolic on” -Ancient Lithuanian Proverb

We took refuge and recovered in several of the finest coffee houses Vilnius had to offer. Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories was the pick of a fine crop of brew bars. A minimalist caffeinated dream overseen by a most amicable custodian, who duly outlined the best Foosball hotspots, where we could hone and refine our craft before the evening’s proceedings.

On the advice of our new Lithuanian sage, we bounded down to Pavilionas, something of a mecca for Lithuanian tabletop sports enthusiasts. Unfortunately it was closed. Unperturbed we detoured to a local health and nutrition bar to consume a traditional Foosball training drink, ginger shots.

Woooooooooosssh. Now we were revitalised. Our minds were pure and clear. Our hands alert to the challenge that awaited them. But our legs. Our legs were heavy. And one must never underestimate the importance of a stable pair of legs when commading a Foosball table.

Luckily a solution presented itself to us in true Voltairian fashion. Vilnius City Bikes, for just €3, allowed us to warm up our lackadaisical legs, and to even take in some of the city’s sights, despite our busy schedule.

The squad does some sightseeing to calm the nerves.

Our first round of competitive matches were a one-sided affair. The challengers from Germany and Sweden were quickly dispatched of by our superior British strokeplay. The naivety of our European counterparts to not even bring with them their team manager and owner still astounds me. Nevertheless you can only beat what’s put two feet across the table from you. God save the Queen.

We celebrated our first round victories with a Sakotis, the traditional dish of Lithuania, cooked by dripping cake mix over a rotating spit in an oven. It’s spiky on the outside, but sweet on the inside, much like most Lithuanians.

Sakotis in all its glory

Next we made our way in City Bike convoy across town to Piano Man bar, so named for being the venue of Billy Joel’s 1973 World Foosball Championship victory, the first by an American on European soil, and an important turning point in the Cold War.

Here, as it had done for our Cold War counterparts, our luck turned.

We stood, cock-eyed in awe, witnessing the home favourite Lithuanian national duo obliterate behemoth after behemoth of the European Foosball scene. Such guile and panache gushed from every Lithuanian passage of play, at one point I’m pretty sure my hand spontaneously started to bleed just from watching. We had no choice but to throw in the towel, to avoid being unceremoniously humbled, mentally and physically.

Lithuania 1 United Kingdom 0

After our ignominy, George considers a squad rebrand.

To the casual observer, our tour had been a failure. Whilst it was true that we had folded like cowards in the heat of battle, there were many positives to take from our experience.

For one, we had discovered our Westernized diets to be inadequate for the physical exhaustion of Foosball. If you want to be a true Foosball champion you need a stomach hardened from years of gnoshing on sloppy gnocchi, focaccia, and of course sakotis; all washed down with a nice cool glass of 75% mead.

Secondly, and most importantly, we had bonded as a team, as human beings. We may not have brought home the trophy with us, but we brought home something even more special: Friendship.

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“GET BACK IN YOUR BASKET, YOU IDIOT!”

Reasons to visit Vilnius if you’re not into Foosball

  • Sakotis
    - The national delicacy is actually really tasty, when done properly. Don’t buy a huge 10 euro monstrosity from the supermarket as we did. It’s much nicer when fresh, in small doses.
  • Coffee is excellent 
    - I truly think we went to the 4 nicest coffee shops I’ve ever been to in my life, in Vilnius. Every new café we went to seemed to be trendier than the last, all with a fine selection of drip, filter, Aeropress, Chemex, V60 etc. coffees.
  • Lithuania is excellent at design 
    - And by design, I mainly mean interior design. There aren’t many large Western chains knocking about, but there are lots of cute, chic restaurants, bars, shops, clubs. Despite the Soviet background, and there definitely are more than a few remnants of that era, Lithuania is a pretty fashionable place, and Lithuanians a fashionable people.
  • Segways 
    - This isn’t Vilnius specific, but I need to shout out Segways. We rented ours for 15 euros each, per hour, and they truly are great fun for all the family. George managed to break his twice in that timespan, but that was probably just an unfortunate coincidence…
  • City Bikes
    - Vilnius, like a lot of European cities, has an excellent cheap City Bike service. For tourists like us, this was a great way to get around the city and see the sights, especially as the 3 day pass only costs 3 euros.

TO CONCLUDE: Go to Vilnius! It’s super cheap compared to most European city breaks, and still has all the same amenities and activities you might expect from some of Europe’s more obvious tourist destinations. You definitely won’t be bored with a long weekend in Lithuania.

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