24 July, 2008

Swamp Thing

Anyone who watches Sky Sports News in the mornings will be all too aware that pre-season friendlies are well underway now, but genuinely, does anyone really care if their youth team is playing Carlisle or whatever? Exactly. So while writing reports chronicling how my fantastic 5-a-side team is doing in the East London Wednesday Power League was good for a while (well, a week) it’s time to look elsewhere I think, to a considerably better style of football. No, not Beach Football, although that is fun, but something much more entertaining: Swamp Soccer!
Currently ongoing in Finland, the Swamp Soccer World Championships is an international event which 340 teams have entered for this year and more than 10,000 people are expected to attend as spectators. “Playing football in the swamp is like a slow-motion movie coming to a halt every time a player sinks in a hole,” veteran Tuula Brocke vividly told Reuters.Your opponent snatches the ball right in front of your nose, but you are stuck in the mass of dung and cannot move at all!” Sounds just like playing at the JJB last season. The swamp is apparently much cleaner though than last year when it was still full of tree stumps and branches, but don’t worry there are still plenty of natural dangers. Drinking the swamp water, for example, is quite worryingly the mistake most participants make.

Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Russia were among the growing number of foreign teams, while the location is a huge natural swamp outside the Northern town of Hyrynsalmi which is converted into 22 individual arenas separated just by yellow tape. The scene is more like an abandoned farm than Old Trafford, but afficiandos claim that this is the sport in its purest form. Each team apparently has their own tactic to move the ball forward in this chaotic and completely uncontrolled game: “We have been training how to walk in the swamp on our fours and to kick from the side - that's the only way we could move it when the ground got this soft,” Brocke continued, adding that it was guts and luck that tended to decide the better team.

The sport was first conceived bizarrely by Finnish cross-country skiers looking for a way to train during the snowless summer months, and Portuguese Olympic cross-country skier Danny Silva has actually joined one of the teams this year looking for exactly that kind of exercise. “You can't run normally, and the swamp makes your legs very heavy - that boosts your heart rate and it pumps your upper leg strength,” he enthused. “Athletes get way too serious when they train - this is bizarre, but makes training so much more fun!” It’ll be interesting to see how well Mr. Silva does in the Olympics; if this is all the training he’s doing then my money is on ‘not well.’

So there you have it: Swamp Soccer; is anybody tempted? No, I didn’t think so.

As you can see from below though, the Women’s World Cup is a little bit more relaxed, and proves strangely more popular as a spectator sport…

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