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