Are you ready for Euro 2012? The 14th European Championship for national football teams will be hosted by Poland and Ukraine from June 8 to July 1. The contest is huge – the second biggest deal in soccer after the illustrious World Cup.
You need to understand, however, that the wildly popular brand of soccer we all know and love is not the only one. Dotted around the planet, there are all kinds of captivating soccer variants. Discover some off-the-beaten-path ways the game is played and maybe you’ll have a newfound love for your favorite sport.
Australian Rules Football
Australian Rules Football, also know as Aussie Rules, is an extremely dynamic and physical game. If you didn’t know better, you might think that the point is to jump up as high into the air as you can and drive your elbow into your opponent’s spine.
Aussie Rules’ roots can be traced all the way back to early forms of Rugby and Gaelic football, but it is extremely Australian — as much part of the culture as Ugg boots and sausage sizzle.
The game’s rules were formalized in 1858, which means it predates most other kinds of football, including American, Gaelic and Rugby Union. There are currently countless small Aussie Rules leagues and a National Championship held annually.
The point of Aussie Rules is to score points by blasting the ball through the other team’s goal. The main way to score is by kicking, but the game also involves legal handballing and dribbling reminiscent of basketball.
Why the name “footy” has yet to catch on beyond the Lucky Country is a mystery.
Dubbed “mud mayhem”, the history of swamp soccer shows that the soccer variant may be the most extreme form of football on the planet. As the name suggests, it is played amid sludgy bogland.
Very similar to regular soccer, swamp soccer is played partly just for laughs (one team is called Mudchesthair United), but it is characterized by muscle-melting intensity.
Each half lasts 13 minutes or so, rather than the standard 45 minutes. Presumably, swamp soccer has to be much shorter because otherwise everyone would drop dead.
In its primordial beginnings, swamp soccer was just a bloody-minded British army training exercise with which the Finns got involved. Swamp soccer’s forefather, skier Esa Romppainen, had a go at the game to intensify his summertime training. It then spread everywhere from Brazil to Holland to the US.
The first organized Swamp Soccer World Championship took place in 1998 in Finland, run by Jyrki Vaananen, aka “The Swamp Baron.” The 2012 Swamp Soccer World Cup will be held June 23-24 in Inverness, Scotland.
Craving an adrenaline fix? Look no further than the game of Futsal.
Played indoors, this five-a-side soccer variation involves a small, hard ball scudding off the glossy surface fast, forcing competitors to adapt intuitively.
The action is crammed into two 20-minute halves — and the electrifying pace makes the game a great medium for improving traditional soccer skills or just having a blast.
Futsal emerged in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1930 when Uruguayan professor Juan Carlos Ceriani concocted a soccer style to be played competitively at YMCAs. As Futsal gathered momentum and glamour, some of the world’s top soccer players took it up.
Finally, a rule book surfaced. Now, because it is so irresistibly fun, Futsal is played all over the world. If you decide to try it, you will need to be on your toes and ready for high-scoring action.
Kemari, Japan’s laid-back take on soccer, dates beyond living memory.
Originating during the Japenese Heian period, Kemari was played with a sawdust-stuffed deerskin-wrapped ball that contestants kept up in the air by juggling with their feet and passing. Instead of flags, the classic Kemari pitch featured a cherry tree, a maple tree, a willow and a pine at each corner: a scenic slant on a game that the Brits once played with a pig’s bladder.
Japanese Kemari addicts who play at Kyoto’s Kemari Club keep the game alive. There, every April 29, the Kemari Festival unravels. When punting the ball into the skies, Kemari players dressed in vibrant traditional costume call “Ariyaaa!”, meaning “Here we go!”
Another attractive aspect of the game is that there are no winners or losers.