Imagine an ideal world. Think for a brief moment about the nature of our existence in this imaginary realm, the environment we would live in, the lives that we could have and enjoy. Of course different people will have different ideas about the little things, and the small details, and the notion of what constitutes a good time, but the big-picture will be familiar to most if not all. It would be a world similar to that evoked by John Lennon and Star Trek; The Next Generation, a world built on human co-operation, and individual freedom, where there is no need or want for money or materialistic objects; where everyone has their place and “all the people [are] living life in peace”.
Ok back to reality. We don’t live in an ideal world and, for better or for worse, the games we play reflect the world we live in, not just the modern world either. We have evolved to compete. From the beginning of time we have evolved through countless wars and battles, with other species and with each-other, and have been victorious thus far in the survival of the fittest. Then, since the dawn of civilisation the entertainment for the masses has often involved pitting man against man, or even man against beast, to see who is the best competitor, who is the strongest, who is the cleverest, who will live and who will die; who will lose and who will win. It is the nature of our being and modern football reflects this. Okay we don’t see limbs severed, or the losing team executed, like the good old days of the Roman Colloseum or in the ancient cultures of South America, but modern sport is still mostly based on confrontation and conflict where the only objective really is to figuratively kill your opponent.
So, thinking back again to that little reverie you had about that ideal world, ask yourself how would football be played? If our culture evolved to a stage where war was a thing of the past and needless conflict had been eradicated in society would that be reflected in the sports we would enjoy? If the crew of the star ship Enterprise (captained by Picard of course) had to play a football match against a resurgent Klingon best eleven or a smugly confident Romulan squad, all for the fate of mankind, what would it look like? You might find the answer to all three questions without needing a crystal ball or setting your Sky box to series-link and ploughing through all 550,000 episodes of Star Trek, by simply looking into when the next Three Sided Football tournament is heading to a location near you.
“What the fuck is three sided football?” you might scratch your head and ask (because that’s exactly what I said when I came across the subject). And the answer is …er…simple. To give you some indication of how the sport may appear to new fans, it has been described as “organised confusion” by some football journalists. Firstly the game is played between three competing teams instead of two, on a hexagonal shaped pitch that is divided into three “halves”. There are two referees patrolling the pitch but they don’t have as much power to influence a game as you’d expect.
Unlike normal football where the team that scores the most goals wins, in three-sided football the team that concedes the fewest wins. When there are three teams competing against each other the need for teamwork and tactics is paramount. As the game ebbs and flows the three sides are forced to switch allegiances and form new alliances. Your enemy is the team with the fewest goals conceded so you team up with the other opposing side to level things up. However, as soon as you’ve put a few past them they are no longer such a threat so your enemy soon becomes your ally and the idea of counter-attacking takes on a whole new meaning.
The three team format fosters a reliance on cooperation rather than conflict between opponents, with huge emphasis placed on forming alliances, and deep tactical thinking. Weaknesses in other teams are not just exploited, but they also have to be cultivated and protected depending on the dynamics of the game at any particular time. A team of seven players with very few goals conceded can find themselves up against fourteen opposing players until the scores are more balanced. Teams then have to make judgements on the strengths and weaknesses of the other teams and choose to make or break alliances based on those judgements. Another consequence of having three sides is that throw-ins and corners are not the sole-property of any one team, and are often decided through reasonable debate between the players and the referees who officiate! For a more detailed breakdown of the rules go to http://geoffandrews-philosophy-football.blogspot.ie/but basically they go as follows;
1. The team that concedes the fewest goals wins. Goals scored are not counted.
2. Each team has two sides of the six-sided pitch.
3. If the ball goes out on your side of the pitch it’s yours. Unless it goes out off one of your team in which case it goes to one of the other teams
4. In relation to referees, the following quote explains, ‘The game deconstructs the mythic bi-polar structure of conventional football, where an us-and-them struggle mediated by the referee mimics the way the media and the state pose themselves as “neutral” elements in the class struggle’, in spite of this fact the match will have two referees, able to make discerning philosophical judgements.
5. Three thirty-minute “halves” work well.
6. No off-sides or anything like that.
The game was actually conceived in the 1960s by a Danish artist, philosopher and intellectual called Asger Jorn. Even then Jorn was afraid that football was beginning to reflect the worst aspects of modern capitalism and its confrontational nature. He felt that society had always been divided by the notion of binary opposites such as the ying and the yang, and good and evil and all that. This leads to an existence of perpetual conflict between these opposites, football being another manifestation of this conflict.
The introduction of a third side to mediate encourages more dialogue, more strategic thinking and more cooperation between groups, without diminishing the element of competition that we sports fans thrive on. At that time the idea of three sided football was a mere seed that is only now beginning to bear fruit. Tournaments have sprung up in various places over the past few years, such as Rome, Madrid and most notably, one organised by La Liga’s Athletic Bilbao. In a recent Spanish tournament, teams with names such as Philosophy Football FC, who incidentally wear shirts with famous philosophical quotations printed on them, and the X-men, made up of foreign football correspondents such as Sid Lowe, along with a team of mysterious “<em “mso-bidi-font-style:=”” normal”=””>Spanish existentialists”, illustrate why the game may not be ready to appeal to the masses just yet, but show that it is now being organised and played on a regular basis.
So what’s the point of it all you might ask? Both in relation to three sided football, and life the universe and everything, the answer is probably the same, it depends on how you look at them. Modern football is a fantastic beast that is fed and manipulated and shaped by a pervasive and omnipresent media. The game itself so often gets lost in the hype and sensationalism of the pre-match build up and the post-match death by over-analysis, where TV networks and pundits murder to dissect, that the beauty is often taken out of the game. The great French Philosopher and promising goalkeeper Albert Camus once said,
“All that I know most surely about morality and obligation I owe to football”
Imagine a world where so many young people grow up to develop a sense of morality based on role models such as Wayne Rooney or Louis Suarez? No? Me neither. Football as we know it is certainly in no danger of being supplanted by its weedy snotty intellectualised and more evolved relation, and as such it should commend and nurture the three sided game. And as society continues to evolve maybe then that game and it’s principles too can develop and flourish. Maybe we all just need to grow up. Until that happens, more blood please.
by Paul Cahill