The Three Sided Football Revolution - Football's New Idea

posted by Geoff Andrews at Sunday, June 09, 2013

Another football season draws to a close and attention moves to the agents, transfer rumours, sponsorship deals and rising season-ticket prices in preparation for the next instalment of the multi-million empire that we know as the Premier League. At a time of austerity and economic hardship, the next few weeks will be a testing time for supporters and parents as they ponder over whether to commit to another year of Footballers Behaving Badly and owners who only seem interested in the market value of their clubs.

However, for all the downsides – the increasing domination of corporate sponsors, the footballing mercenaries and the cheating - it remains the people’s game. There is always the belief that one day football might recover its soul, players might show greater loyalty, clubs will respect the fans’ demands and their own team might finally win something. In any case, what is the alternative?

Well, there may now be an alternative which preserves football’s simple pleasures, one which puts tactics and teamwork over self-centred individualism and, in the spirit of ‘jumpers for goalposts’, can accommodate a range of surfaces. Three Sided Football , a game played on a hexagonal pitch involving three teams, two refs and a philosophy which rewards the teams which concedes fewer, rather than scores more, goals, seems to be an idea whose time has come. It has been growing over the last couple of years with the first League of its kind established in Deptford, South London, and a series of European tournaments in Bilbao, Rome and Madrid.

Three Sided Football was the brainchild of Asger Jorn, the Danish artist and sculptor, who in the early 1960s sought an alternative to the confrontational nature of conventional football which to him had begun to reflect the worst aspects of modern capitalism. The commodification of the game had diminished individual expression and distorted its original core values. His concept of triolectics looked for a three sided logic which would disrupt the binary opposites of a divided society, while his Situationist philosophy advocated ‘spectacles’ which would revive the authentic values of the artist.

Fittingly, for a game described by the Italian football journalist Filippo Ricci, as ‘organised confusion’, the first match was played in 1993 at the Glasgow Anarchist Summer School. True to its origins its participants were ‘pyscho-geographers’, architects and artists, including Stewart Home, the filmmaker and it was to be a similar type of player who performed in occasional matches over the next fifteen years.

Since 2010 the three sided game has developed quickly with the real prospect of reaching a larger following. It has attracted the support of some prominent football journalists including Ricci of La Gazzetta dello Sport, and Sid Lowe, The Guardian’s Spanish Football correspondent. In that year, Philosophy Football , the club which sports shirts with quotes from philosophers about football, got together with Whitechapel Art Gallery, in East London, to organise a match during the General Election. The three teams represented the main political parties. The match saw Labour’s only victory of that campaign, but more poignantly provided a preview of the ups and downs of coalition politics, with changing loyalties threatening to dislodge flimsy and temporary alliances.

In fact, three sided football is all about trust, divided loyalties and creative opportunism. Teams form alliances and will turn defence into attack in an instant. Given that one minute team B is your friend; the next your enemy, the value of the counter-attack, as well the need for resilient defending against two teams of opponents, celebrates some of football’s finest aspects.

Following this first venture, Philosophy Football then co-organised and participated in three international tournaments; in Madrid and Rome against teams of philosophers and journalists and in Bilbao, in a match played in a bull-ring. The match in Bilbao was very significant in the rise of Three Sided Football and of its future potential. Club Athletic Bilbao, the same club which knocked Manchester United out of the Europa League in 2012, had organised a three sided league, an indication that its wide appeal had penetrated the mainstream. Nevertheless, playing a match in a bull-ring was a reminder too of the importance of ‘spectacle’, and was duly captured on film by an Italian TV arts programme.

Regent’s Park in London was the venue for the most recent three sided tournament, held at the beginning of May. In addition to Philosophy Football and Deptford, the event brought together a team of Polish Builders and the ‘New Cross Irregulars’. The game of tactical bluff and counter-attack was clear to see with the loyalties shifting in each ten minute session and the result unclear until the final minute.

The Deptford Three Sided League was started in February 2012 and could be the first of many. Set up by architect Mark Dyson, one of the original participants from that early game in Glasgow, it is composed of 3-4 local teams who play regular matches and the occasional tournament. The league is expecting to double the number of teams next season on the back of its rising popularity.

Next year, on the centenary of Asger Jorn’s birth, there will be a three sided football tournament in Denmark to mark the event. The event will be organised with the co-operation of the Asger Jorn museum and feature a range of artistic, philosophical and ‘irregular’ teams. By then, the three sided version of the beautiful game may have had many more converts.

You can follow the development of three sided football on twitter @3SidedFootball

Three Sided Football Comes To Town

posted by Geoff Andrews at Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Three Sided Football, invented by the Danish situationist philosopher Asger Jorn, comes to London on Saturday May 4 in the biggest tournament of its kind in the UK. Co-hosted by the Deptford Three Sided League, which organises a regular Sunday League version, and Philosophy Football, which has participated in three similar tournaments in Madrid, Rome and Bilbao; the latter played in a Bull-Ring. The teams at this Saturday’s tournament also include a group of Scottish comedians and Polish builders.

What is Three Sided Football?

Three Sided Football was set up by Asger Jorn as an alternative to the confrontational nature of two sided football. Unlike the conventional game, the team that wins in three sided football is that which concedes fewest goals. This ensures a match that is strong on tactics and teamwork, with the three sides switching allegiances and forming alliances as the dynamics of the game shift. Your enemy soon becomes your friend and counter-attack takes on a new meaning as the direction of play turns rapidly across the hexagonal pitch. Corners and throw-ins are not the property of any one team which can often lead to intriguing philosophical debate between teams and the two referees who officiate.

It is perhaps unsurprising that Philosophy Football should be one of the main pioneers of Three Sided Football, given their reputation for playing deep in accordance with the words of philosophical wisdom that adorn their shirts. During the 2010 General Election they co-hosted a tournament with Whitechapel Art Gallery to represent the three main political parties. Then they joined teams of football correspondents in Madrid before playing that epic tournament in a Spanish bull-ring which was captured by Italian TV. Saturday’s tournament will be the first international three sided affair in London, but given the concern over what is happening to the soul of the beautiful game it is an idea which may have found its time.

For interviews: Geoff Andrews (Philosophy Football) @andrewsgeoff
Three Sided Football

Philosophy Football FC

Three Sided Football and the True Olympic Spirit

posted by Geoff Andrews at Saturday, July 28, 2012

    The London 2012 Olympics has been marred by controversies over the siting of the stadium, ticketing procedures, and most recently, security, with the private security firm G4S unable to provide enough security guards, leading to last minute hiring of 3,500 army personnel. Yet these controversies should be seen in light of wider contradictions of the Olympic ideal. One contradiction is the domination of corporate interests, which in the modern era were originally thought incompatible with the autonomy and decision-making of the International Olympic Committee. This year’s domination of the Olympics by three main corporate sponsors – McDonald’s, Coca Cola and Rio Tinto - has a range of implications for Olympic autonomy, health and pluralism.

The second contradiction has been the erosion of the founding ideal of both the ancient and modern Olympics. Namely, that it was to be a gathering of the best athletes. In several Olympic sports, notably men’s football, this is not the case. The Wimbledon tournament held at the end of June and beginning of July will shortly host another, lesser, tennis tournament during the Olympics, while football will feature a mixture of younger and veteran players selected according to a range of criteria (in the case of Team GB, the criteria is completely impenetrable).

In fact, if we take the case of football, there are further contradictions underpinning its presence in the Olympics. Football became dominated by big corporate interests and the issue of television rights long before the Olympics started to be taken over by them. The nature of modern football itself is far from exuding an Olympic spirit; racism, cheating (including match-fixing) and mercenary self-interest currently pervade the sport.

There is, however, an Olympian idea of football in waiting. This is Three Sided Football, invented by the Danish Situationist Asger Jorn, and brought to Italy initially by the Luther Blissett collective. Philosophy Football has now participated in Three Sided Football tournaments in London, Rome, Madrid and Bilbao, with the objective of bringing this game from the margins to the mainstream. The rules of Three Sided Football, which is a very philosophical game, embodies core elements of the Olympian ideal.

Firstly, the match is played on a hexagonal pitch with over three ‘halves’ and involving three teams, with the team which concedes fewer goals declared the winner. Necessarily it involves tactical choices, artistic expression and real human values – as opposed to superficial and mercenary ones – while promoting internationalism. The tactics change frequently during the match as the dynamics develop. Alliances are formed but are often temporary and conditional. Your friend for the first ten minutes, can be your opponent in the next. The ability of players to intervene to change the dynamics is more evident. The real human values, at the heart of the Olympic idea, are present and include trust, generosity and loyalty; but also betrayal, forgiveness and negotiation.

Three Sided Football was originally conceived as an alternative to the bi-polar adversarial nature of modern football where the referee becomes the representative of the state, adjudicating between two great powers. In Three Sided Football, the referee’s authority is diminished, becoming more of a silent facilitator than main protagonist. This is a small victory for anarchism in its purest form, but also a triumph for the three teams who assert their own authority and play the game in a spirit of freedom and empathy, which nevertheless remains competitive. Crucially, the players have to play in a philosophical way. They have to be aware of the need for alliances and to think more about tactical questions. They need to make fast judgements about an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, knowing that they will have to both exploit and cultivate these depending on the situation of the game. In all the Three Sided matches in which Philosophy Football have participated, the result is always in the balance. Often, the team trailing at the end of the first half, becomes the eventual winner.

Three Sided Football attracts different kinds of teams precisely because of this philosophy and ethos. Our first game was organised in association with the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, during the 2010 General Election in the UK, which ended with the first coalition government in many years. However there were more effective alliances on the pitch. The Whitechapel Gallery saw the artistic merit of the game and designed their own hexagonal pitch. In May this year we played in a match in Bilbao at the Plaza de Toros Bullring, in a match organised by the Athletic de Bilbao Federation, which also organises a regular ‘Thinking Football’ tournament involving artists and writers. During the period of this summer’s London Olympics, we will be participating in a Three Sided tournament in Deptford, South London, involving international teams of philosophers, builders, architects and geographers. As the other event takes place across the river, this will be a truly Olympian football experience.

Political Football at the Euros

posted by Geoff Andrews at Sunday, June 24, 2012

Anticipation at the beginning of a major football tournament is always high and given the quality of players on offer as the 2012 European Football Championships kicks off in Poland and Ukraine, this one should be no different. Yet, there are several reasons to be uneasy and many causes for pessimism over the future of the ‘beautiful game’. The venue itself has become the subject of critical public scrutiny, with Britain’s decision to follow other European partners in refusing to send government ministers during the group stages of the tournament in protest at the treatment of former Ukraine PM and opposition leader Yuliyu Tymoshenko, and concerns over civil rights and the rule of law in that country.

Serious evidence of racism in Ukraine and Poland, which was made clear in BBC’s Panorama programme (‘Stadiums of Hate’) on 28 May, has resulted in fewer than normal English supporters travelling and the threat by players from several teams to leave the pitch if they become the subject of racist chants. UEFA President Michel Platini’s statement that they would be booked if they do has hardly quelled that concern.

The tournament starts against the backdrop of other serious problems faced by some of the leading teams. The match-fixing crisis in Italy has already seen the withdrawal of one squad player and has recalled earlier scandals which preceded previous tournaments. This included the even more serious ‘Calciopoli’ in 2006, an earlier match-fixing scandal that had repercussions for several leading teams and led to the relegation of Juventus then (as now) the Italian League Champions and the 1982 betting scandal which involved their leading player Paolo Rossi. As Italy went on to win both tournaments they will hope that the sense of solidarity at times of crisis – some call it a siege mentality – will work again in their favour. However, they have some fiery players, notably Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, who can be very unpredictable.

England has faced its own ‘political’ problems, beyond the injuries to Lampard, Barry and others. As we know the omission of Rio Ferdinand for ‘footballing reasons’ has fuelled speculation that there were other motives behind the decision reasons given that his England centre-back partner John Terry will soon face trial for racially abusing Rio’s brother Anton. The decision to delay the court hearing until July – some nine months after the incident took place – has the potential to envelop England in another political storm (particularly if Terry makes any important errors) and has already accounted for former manager Fabio Capello.

The economic crisis in Europe may not directly impinge on the tournament itself but it will be significant for the supporters and many political leaders will know the boost a good performance can provide for the flagging self-confidence of the nation. Two of the countries hit most severely by the euro crisis, Greece and Spain, have quite contrasting expectations. Greece will find it tough (and could give another meaning to ‘early exit from the Euro’) while tournament favourites Spain will hope that another victory can bring relief from a rapidly declining economy and rising unemployment.

Much attention will be on the tournament hosts and Ukraine in particular, with its future as a modern European nation still in doubt. Apart from the debates about whether stadiums would be prepared in time, there have been concerns over whether the country should have been awarded the championships at all given its human rights record, as one of the most repressive of the post-Soviet states. The prevalence of racism in the stadium could lead to wider implications and the UEFA officials will be holding their breath that this does not erupt into a major controversy. Ukraine has many unresolved questions, notably corruption and inefficiency, which may implode in a very public way over the next month.

Unlike Ukraine, Poland has gone a long way to rebuilding infrastructure and tourism and is now a settled democratic state. However, there have been some major polemics concerning the hosting of the Russian team very close to the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. This location is a regular site for meeting of nationalist groups who blame a Russian conspiracy for the plane crash in 2010 which killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski. Nikoloy Komarov of the Russian Football Federation however, has dismissed any fears of reprisals and has said rather optimistically that ‘sport is beyond politics’.

The view that sport is ‘beyond politics’ has been repeated by Ukranian government officials in pre-tournament polemics. Yet, politics continues to shape the decisions of UEFA and FIFA, football’s governing bodies, regularly embroiling Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini in controversies, while the power of big business and commercial sponsorship continues to clash with fan expectations; the recent decision by the owners of Cardiff City to insist the club change their colours from blue to red being interpreted by many as putting their global brand before the local club.

However, there are now some progressive alternatives. AFC Wimbledon and AFC United have offered more democratic ownership models, while the growth of grassroots fan movements and associations like Kick it Out have challenged racism head on. Athletic Bilbao, who won many plaudits for their attacking style in recent months, recently organised a season-long Three Sided Football competition in association with the Guggenheim Museum of Art which brought together artists, writers and local players. This was followed by a three sided match played in Bilbao’s Bullring, the Plaza de Toros, involving Athletic Bilbao, a team of International migrants based in Spain, and my club Philosophy Football, which play in shirts inspired by the thoughts of Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Eric Cantona. The theme of all these matches was ‘Thinking Football’, namely a call to return football to its grassroots and to celebrate the simple pleasures of the beautiful game. With so many creative players on show at the Euros, let’s hope the tournament is remembered for these values.

Shirts Are Sacred

posted by Geoff Andrews at Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Shirts Are Sacred – Why Cardiff City Are Wrong. The decision by Cardiff City to change the colour of their shirts for the first time in over 100 years and in defiance of their long-standing nickname Bluebirds amounts to a serious surrender of values by a football club in the face of corporate power. It is a humiliating admission by the club that they are prepared to sacrifice a crucial element of their identity in order to gain financial benefit. In fact the implications are clear. They care more about the global brand than the local team. This is the unacceptable face of modern football. It represents the ultimate commodification of football culture. Unsurprisingly the decision has been met with much opposition by loyal fans who, on recent performances, deserve to be watching their team in the premiership. Equally predictably, the club hierarchy have made the usual noises about needing financial security and investment to compete at the higher level. Don’t be fooled, however. Shirts are sacred, and this is a step too far that will surely result in increasing conflict between ordinary fans and the corporate bosses. More worryingly, this decision could pave the way for similar moves by the owners of other clubs. For Philosophy Football our shirts have a particular meaning, given they display quotes from philosophers about football or from footballers about philosophy. In the past league organisers have asked us to change shirts, while we have been offered shirts with corporate logos backed by sponsorship. We have always refused for obvious reasons. Such a change would be a denial of the reasons of our existence. Traditional shirt colours remain important for all clubs however. When on a tour to Prague a few years ago we went to see one of the leading Czech Republic club sides which had just gone down the road of accepting commercial sponsorship. We estimated at the time that the cost of these shirts exceeded that of a season ticket to stand on the terraces. We know the cost for parents of buying new sets of replica shirts each year. There are many cases of outrageous interference by owners in the running of football clubs. My own club QPR endured a disastrous ‘four year plan’ during which owner Flavio Briatore attempted to turn it into a ‘boutique’ club. We know the effect of Blackburn Rovers’ owners Venky’s on the club’s status and there are many examples where the club stadium has been renamed to suit the business interests of the owners. Many clubs have chosen the away kits as the vehicle for pushing the global brand - QPR now advertise Malaysian airlines - but this comes across as the local club building its global appeal.For many this is bad enough, though now generally tolerated. The owners of Cardiff City could have used the away kits to market their business. Instead they wanted to rebrand the club entirely and to confront the core symbol and traditions of the club. It was unnecessary and this head-on confrontation with the fans (seemingly without cultivating the supporters)invariably leads to disaster further down the road. It would seem Cardiff would need to make a good start and get promoted next year or face a major and lasting opposition from fans. AS we know as well as anybody, shirts really are sacred, they embody the traditions and soul of the club, and owners should keep their hands off.

Philosopher Three Sided Football Football Match - Madrid 7 May

posted by Geoff Andrews at Friday, May 06, 2011

Three Sided Football makes its first ever appearance in Spain this weekend (7 May), when Philosophy Football FC, the team which wears shirts adorned with the comments of famous philosophers about football, take on The XMen, made up of many of the foreign football correspondents in Madrid, including The Guardian’s Sid Lowe and Filippo Ricci of La Gazzetta dello Sport, and a mysterious team of Spanish Existentialists in a unique Three Sided Football match. Three Sided football was created by the Danish Situationist Asger Jorn who sought an alternative to the adversarial and conflict-ridden nature of modern society. He found his solution in an unusual adaptation of the beautiful game. Played on a specially constructed hexagonal pitch, Three Sided Football relies on cooperation rather than conflict between potential opponents, with the emphasis on forming alliances on the pitch and thinking deeply about tactics. Unlike conventional football, the winner is the team which concedes least, rather than scores most, goals.

In May 2010, Philosophy Football took part in a Three Sided Football match in London organised in conjunction with the Whitechapel Art Gallery, during the British General Election campaign. They represented the Labour Party against the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. It was Labour’s only victory of that period, as some truly philosophical defending kept a clean sheet against the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition which was about to start running the country.
Will this match have a similar significance for football? The temperature has been rising in Madrid over recent weeks following several hostile ‘Clasico’ encounters between Real and Barca. Philosophy Football’s manager Geoff Andrews hopes the Three Sided match will help to cool things down and provoke a more philosophical period of calm reflection. He says: ‘In Three Sided Football, your opponent can be your friend. The referee is the guardian of justice and the players are free artists of the beautiful game’.

The match will be played at Stadio Centro Deportivo Municipal la Elipa in Madrid (Kick off 13.00) on Saturday 7 May. Each team will represent three different philosophical positions which sum up the dilemmas of the modern game, but which also suggest the virtues of a change of tactics to accommodate the three sided logic. Solidarity, Satire and internationalism will be the three sided logic for this historic occasion. The Xmen will represent the thoughts of Jean-Paul Sartre, whose view was well-suited to the three sided idea.: ‘In football everything is complicated by the presence of the opposition’. The Spanish existentialists will represent the classic Albert Camus, concerned as always with the situation of the outsider: 'All that I know most surely about morality and obligation I owe to football' and Philosophy Football, from London, will revive the classic International Philosophers Football match between Greek and German philosophers of the British satirists Monty Python

The Rules of Three-Sided Football

Rules of three-sided football

1. Scoring
A team does not count the goals it scores, only the goals it concedes. The winner is the team that concedes the fewest goals.
2. Throw-ins / goal-kicks / corners
On the hexagonal pitch, each team has two sides of the six-sided pitch: the side with the goal (the 'backside') and the side opposite to your goal (the 'frontside'). If the ball goes out on one of your two sides, you get the throw-in / goal-kick. If it went out off you, the throw-in or corner goes to the team whose own goal is nearest to where the ball went out.
3. Referees
While there is a temptation to have no referees with the following dictat in mind: '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', the match will have two referees, able to make discerning philosophical judgements.
4. Duration of match
Ideally, teams will play until people get bored, start to wander off, fall asleep etc: however, three thirty-minute 'halves' with teams rotating goals would work well
5. Other rules
There will be no off-sides. There will be rolling subs, rush goalies etc.

For interviews contact:

Filippo Ricci (0034) 677198966
Geoff Andrews (0044) 7976 635489

Philosophy Football to tour Madrid in May

posted by Geoff Andrews at Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sid Lowe's Guardian interview with Xavi (Friday 11 February) was a fascinating discussion about Football philosophy. Two good philosophers in conversation. We look forward to meeting Sid Lowe on the pitch again in Madrid in May, when Philosophy Football embark on their 17th European Tour and take on Filippo Ricci's XMen, his squad of dissident football journalists.