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The Anarchists' Ball - 3-Sided Football

Report by Michael Hodges

Three goals, hexagonal pitches...The rules have changed over the years, but FIFA would have a field day with this lot. Goal shrugs off the shackles of organised leagues and hangs out with the anarchists.

It is unlikely that Luther Blissett is even aware of the fact that he's the inspiration behind three-sided football, a form of the game that 'deconstructs the mythic bipolar structure of conventional football'. But then Watford is not a hotbed of class war and, although it is rumoured that he organised a three-sided football league during his playing days, Blissett probably isn't attending Hackney Anarchist Week in east London. Goal is, however, and it is here that we encounter the Luther Blissett 3-Sided Football League, named after the man himself. The game has been further developed by anarchist group the London Psychogeographical Association (LPA).

Played on an hexagonal pitch between three sides, each defending one goal, the aim is not to score the most goals, but concede the least. Goals are conceded when the ball 'is thrust through a team's orifice', so dissolving 'the homoerotic/homophobic bipolarity of the two-sided game'. Put simply, three-sided football is, ideally, an exercise in co-operative behaviour, with one side persuading another to join in a campaign against the third - thus breaking down the very basis of capitalist organisation - and all before teatime.

Hmm. Today's game involves fellow anarchists the Association of Autonomous Astronauts (AAA) who are developing an independent space-travel project based on the premise that all we require to travel the universe is imagination and a map of another planet. Accordingly, today's match is to be played on the surface of the moon, or Hackney, depending on who you believe.

Gathering in St. Barnabas church hall, the assembled anarchists, amateur astronauts, baffled hacks and the merely curious are asked to form three groups, autonomously of course, and issued with Bartholomew's maps of the moon's surface.

John Eden of the AAA joins our side, Group One. "We're going to the moon now to find a suitable site to play three-sided football. We're starting from one of the lunar seas, the Mare Heraculem." So, we begin milling around looking for a football pitch and resisting all bourgeois notions of imposed order. Consequently we fail to get anything together. Perusal of the map suggests that the north end of the moon is flattest, and thus more suitable for a pitch. Eventually, following what suspiciously sounds like an order to get on with it, we start out, and immediately get lost. No wonder. According to the map, we are in a 20-mile crater with no obvious way out.

A friendly local stops to offer assistance. "What you looking for mate?" The north end of the moon. Unimpressed, he walks off to the pub, muttering. It's tempting to join him but at that very moment one of our number finds a street corner and, according to the map, Apollo 13's landing site. Appropriately, the American flag is found - or at least a pair of trousers on a line. Beneath them, uncannily, at some point in the past goalposts have been painted on the wall. John looks triumphant; his plan (sorry, autonomous collective decision) is working. Sadly, if not strangely, the playing area is only the width of an east London pavement. Defeated, we return to the Mare Heraculem (let's call it the church hall for convenience).

Groups Two and Three report back. A serious and politically committed conversation ensues, punctuated only by the mobile phone of another journalist. He is, perhaps, a man who hasn't got the hang of the property-is-theft side of anarchism. Group Two report that not only did they find a spaceship (to be expected on the moon) but also a 'No Ball Games' sign, which is something of a blow to our hopes.

The third group have found a part of the moon which bears astonishing resemblance to Grove Street Park. One astronaut thinks carefully, "It's probably better to play on grass." Conventional? Probably. Bourgeois? Perhaps. Sensible? Definitely.

We head for the park. Richard Essex of the LPA gives us a short lecture. "Three-sided football offers unique problems. How do you keep your team together? What is your identity? The very boundaries of what a team actually is can loosen; we can discover new ways of organisation."

It is at this point of anti-hierarchical anarchist debate that the correspondent from another football magazine chooses to ask Richard Essex if he is in charge. This really is the wrong question. Essex, kindly, lets it go and continues. "This is not just a case of scoring goals and its not just about footballing skills, other skills are required, too."

Mainly, it seems, the skill to trick people from another team into thinking you are going to form an alliance with them. This is illustrated early on in proceedings when Jason Skeet of the AAA, calling for the ball, takes delivery of the pass and promptly scores in the goal of the side the pass came from. Embarrassingly, this is the end that Goal is defending. More embarrassingly, it is one of our representatives who has been so obviously and completely duped. Worse still, it's me. It has taken a very short time to realise that with three sides playing one is going to be picked on. It is us.

Both the other two groups press towards our goal, indulging in an orgy of free-scoring libertarian collectivism. The attempt to defend is made all the harder by not knowing any of the people on your side, while furthermore most of them are turned out in gear that could best be described as 'New Age'. Gradually I recognise the man with the purple spiral on his head as being on my side. We start to develop an understanding down the right-hand side. Unfortunately, it isn't an understanding of three-sided football.

We remain under the cosh and the score reaches 4-0-0. But then Group Three let in a goal and suddenly the wisdom of their pact with Group Two seems less sure. Tentative steps are taken to reform the on-pitch alliance, but talk of oppressive structures and fascistic centre-forwards gets us nowhere. Then a burly Australian in a rugby shirt, who's come for the fun, barges through and lays it on. The goal may be no more than a discarded Cure T-shirt and a smelly black jumper, but it's there in front of me. I shoot, I score, the Australian cuddles me. We're 4-1-1 and the game is anyone's.

A singular feature of three-sided football is that casual passers-by are as entitled to play as the original participants. Before long an Italian runs on and proceeds to push, dig, goal-hang and score with all the flamboyance and petulance his footballing heritage can muster. Ignoring one third of the pitch, he's either a fascist or he doesn't see the third goal, but as his only words of English are "Goal! Goal!", it's difficult to find out which.

The man runs riot and soon the scores are in the region of 5-3-6, but no one is really sure. The more professional of the anarchists respond to the challenge in a suspiciously organised way. John, however, maintains a rigorously un-ordered democracy, regularly swapping keepers and giving the ball away whenever the build-up looks promising. Jason, in Group Two, has no such qualms, taking advantage of a pitch which allows him to be both libero and striker.

The correspondent from another football magazine, unable to play because he is wearing an Armani suit of doubtful provenance, looks on from the sidelines, baffled. Our Italian guest, unaware of three-sided football's commitment to the non-fostering of aggression or competitiveness drifts off when it becomes apparent that everyone else is ideologically unwilling to fight for victory at all costs, or in my case, simply too knackered to carry on.

The cure T-shirt is recovered, breath is regained, and 'homoerotic/homophobic bipolarity' declared soundly beaten. We head off autonomously and literally, over the moon.


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