Every Friday night you'll hear a familiar thwacking coupled with frustrated grunts or celebratory shouts emanating from the bar area of Bonfire BBQ. There you'll see a longtime group of friends carefully calculating their next moves before jerking handles and creating that familiar smack.
"The ball's like cotton," sighed Butch Williams. He's referring to the little round rock-solid orb his team of plastic kickers are booting around. Williams is part of the Asheville Foosball League, an unofficial-yet-highly-organized band of buddies.
"I started in the mid-70's when I was playing at a local skating rink we used to have around here called Skateland," remembered Williams. "I worked there, but you could go in the door and start playing and next thing you know it's time to go home. You sat there and held the table all night."
Upwards of ten teams of two take turns at the tables every Friday. It's a friendly competition, but not one that is completely frivolous. "I'm your friend until I get on the table," deadpanned Eddie Cody. "When I get on the table, you're my enemy."
Top level talent has come and gone over the years, but the core group has remained the same. Occasionally a curious spectator will venture over and enter a game. They quickly learn its played at a different level at Bonfire. "You know a lot of people spun the man," Williams said, demonstrating a quick turning motion. "That's not allowed."
The AFL members have a very controlled style of play. They pass between different levels and line-up precise strikes on the hole-in-the-wall net. "It's a chess game," explained Cody. "Everybody is so fast that it's not like you can jump out and block them. Or most of the time it's not like you know where they're going. You anticipate."
Even though they've shell-shocked a newcomer or two, the league prides itself on being open for all. The members are more than happy to walk you through a game and teach you the finer points. "It's a game you can fall in love with," beamed Williams. "It's addictive. You just can't get away from it."