It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when football was first played. Do we begin counting from the moment that China’s Ming dynasty began playing Cuju, an ancient ball game which involved kicking a ball into a net, back in 300 BC? Or do we start from 1863, when a number of players, coaches and representatives from 12 established football clubs met to discuss the lack of fixed rules for the sport - a meeting which led to the creation of the Football Association?
Whether football is 2300 years old or 150 years old, it has rapidly grown to become the world’s most popular sport over the last century, with more than 3.5 billion people worldwide said to consider themselves a fan of the sport. Of course, that figure always rises as the World Cup, football’s showpiece event, approaches. To put the event’s appeal into context, more than 1 billion people (14% of the world’s population) tuned into watch the 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina, while 86% of Germany’s television audience tuned in to watch that game.
Football’s global success has seen a number of adaptations spring up, attempting to use the popularity of the sport to become the next big thing. Some have struggled to make it out of the training ground, such as Crab football or Bubble soccer, but others have achieved a surprising level of success, leading to the formation of official associations and their very own World Cup competitions.
Here are 7 unusual association football variants that you probably didn’t know existed:
Jorkyball isn’t too different to standard football in the way that it is played - players must use their feet to score past their opposition and the team which scores the most goals wins. However, the size of the pitch is significantly smaller. The best way to describe it is as indoor futsal played on a squash pitch. The game is played with two players per side in a 10 metre by 5 metre cage, using the walls as an aid to shoot the ball into the back of a small net.
This wacky idea was first created by Frenchman Gilles Paniez, who began playing the sport in his garage back in 1987. Little more has been disclosed about the sport’s origin, but it rapidly evolved into something so much bigger. Within three years Jorkyball had found its way to Italy, where it was used as a warm-up act prior to matches at the 1990 World Cup. A decade on, and more than 100 pitches had been created across the country.
Despite the collapse of the original association, the Federation International Jorkyball Association (FIJA) after more than 20 years of service to the sport, there are still numerous countries playing under their own associations, which is now overseen by the Jorkyball International Federation (JIF).
With more than 15,000 registered players worldwide, JIF watch over annual national leagues, played among competing clubs within each country, a Champions League style tournament for the best teams in Europe, as well as a World Cup for national teams to compete in.
Officially known as Radball in its country of origin, Cycle-ball remarkably has a history that is almost as long as association football itself. This odd sport was first developed back in 1893 by German-American Nicholas Edward Kaufmann.
The American born cycling enthusiast was known among the scene as a artistic cyclist who performed at many cycling tournaments, including the World Cycling Championships throughout the late 1800s. Likewise, he also held the record for the longest unicycle ride at the famed London Stanley Cycle Show, after riding continuously for over a mile.
However, Kaufmann seemingly wasn’t happy with the impact that he had already had on the circuit and decided to create something that would see his name go down in cycling history - Cycle-ball.
The sport involved two teams of two players who must ride on a fixed gear bicycle. The bicycle cannot be fitted with brakes and the rider is unable to take their feet off of the pedals while moving, meaning that the only way to dribble, pass and shoot the ball is by using the bike itself. The sport is far from easy - riding a bike in an inclosed space is difficult, but doing it while three other people chase a ball around you makes it particularly tough. Crashes are frequent and injuries are a regular occurrence.Yet, besides the risks, there is a core group of players across Europe and Asia who play in multiple club level tournaments each year, as well as the showpiece World Cup event every four years.
‘Roller football’ was first played as early as the 19th century, with the first recorded match played between Derby and Burton on January 30th 1882. However, roller football has had a turbulent history ever since.
The practice continued up until at least the mid 1930s, when the very first footage of the sport was captured at a London roller rink. However, it seemed to die out over the next decade, before reemerging in 1949 in Detroit, United States as Roller Soccer. Following another lengthy disappearance, the sport was picked up again by a group of friends in San Francisco in 1995, who stumbled upon the idea while playing with a pine cone.
Realising the sport’s appeal, the group began playing with a ball and introduced a number of rules to make the sport fair and fun. Now, the sport is effectively indoor soccer played between two 5-a-side teams on roller skates. Of course, to avoid injury, slide tackling is forbidden. Likewise, the goalkeeper position has been eliminated to ensure that teams do not set out to block the small nets. However, aside from those few changes, many of the rules of association football remain.By 1998 Roller Soccer was widespread around some areas of the United States, and within five years there were enough players to justify the introduction of a World Cup style tournament. The first was held in London back in 2003 and has been staged annually ever since.
Despite no evidence to suggest that France were involved in the sport prior to 2003, the country have dominated Roller Soccer since they claimed their first World Championship title back in 2006, winning on six more occasions over the next decade.
Football tennis is a frequent training ground game among many professional football clubs. However, what started as a quick training exercise back in 1922 would develop into its own separate sport, now played across many European countries.
Futnet, as it is known in its native land, was first developed by football club SK Slavia Prague back in 1922. Initially, what is now a tennis net was a single piece of role, suspended horizontally across the field. The game is played with a maximum of three players on each side. The team in possession can touch the ball three times, allowing one bounce between each touch, before knocking it over the rope to their opposition.
The sport soon took off in Czechoslovakia and by 1940 Futnet was given its first set of official rules, coinciding with the very first Futnet Cup. In the decades that followed, an official Futnet league, Trampska Liga, was formed and Footballtennis was listed as an official sport by the Czechoslovak Sports Organisation.
The gradual growth of the sport is clear by the expansion of the association leading it. By 1971 Futnet was watched over by the Czech Futnet Association, until 1987 saw the Federation International de Footballtennis Association take charge. Likewise, there is now also a separate organisation to take care of European Futnet, the European Futnet Association.
The sport now also has its own World Cup - every two years since 1994 has welcomed the Futnet World Championships. Although, while interest in the sport is certainly growing, the majority of the sports fans, participants and champions still come from Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Paralympic association football, often coined as ‘blind football’ is one of the better known variants of the sport. Blind football made headlines back in 2012 after it was introduced to a whole new audience, thanks to the surprising popularity of the 2012 London Olympics.
The sport got its name because, as you can probably guess, it is played by players with visual impairments, including blindness. In order to ensure that everybody is on a level playing field, players must wear blindfolds during games no matter the extent of their impairment. Like many association football variants, blind football is played on small pitches which can accommodate up to four outfield players and one sighted goalkeeper per side.
However, each team also has a sixth player, who stands on the sidelines guiding his teammates towards the ball. Likewise, the ball is also fitted with an electronic device which emits a constant sound, making it easier to track. It may sound like a recipe for disaster, but you only have to watch a short clip to see that these players have developed brilliant ball control skills that make it just as exciting to watch as the standard game.
Blind football might now be a well known sport, but that wasn’t always the case. Until 1980 there was no way for those with visual impairments to take part in the beautiful game. The first tournament is said to have taken place in Brazil, before Spain picked it up six years later. Just over a decade later, blind football had developed into a global sport, with the very first World Championship taking place in 1998. Six years later it was added to the line-up for the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games and has been a mainstay in the games ever since.
Power football is a sport played by power wheelchair users, which usually takes place in a gymnasium setting between two teams of four players. Each wheelchair is fitted with a footguard to aid players as they dribble, pass and shoot at their opponent’s goal.
While a number of powerchair football clubs began to crop up across Europe and North America throughout early 80s, it is believed that the sport originated in France in the 1970s. It wasn’t until 1983 that the game began to gain popularity, after it featured in the 1983 British Columbia Games for the Disabled.Although, it would take some time for the various different forms of power football to come together to form one official sport. The formation of the International Powerchair Football Association eventually took place in 2005, after representatives from England, France, Belgium, Portugal, USA, Canada and Japan came together to finalise an official rulebook.
Since then, power football has boomed, with more than 250 registered clubs now playing under the new governing body, Federation Internationale de Powerchair Football Associations.
Two halves, two teams, two goals and a ball. The swamp football rulebook doesn’t appear to be much different to association football’s Laws of the Game, first drafted by the English Football Association back in 1863. Yet, there is one key difference - Mud. Lots and lots of mud.
If you haven’t already guessed, swamp football is played on a swamp, rather than a grass pitch. The idea is thought to originate from Finland and it remains popular in the nordic countries to this day. The reason for swamp football’s existence is unknown, but it is thought that the sport was originally played by athletes and soldiers as a way of maximising physical exertion, as a standard game of football was unable to push them to their limits. Nowadays, swamp football is a game played by the masses as nothing more than a bit of messy fun.
The idea to turn swamp football into a competitive sport was thought up by the ‘Swamp Baron’ Jyrki Vaananen, who organised the inaugural swamp soccer tournament in 1998. The sport has since been exported around the world, with tournaments now regularly played in the United Kingdom, India and China.