Returning to our philosophical roots

After twenty years, Philosophy Football FC has put aside its 11-a-side playing commitments – although it may sporadically return for special events, even the odd cup-tie – in order to focus on the burgeoning 3sided phenomenon, which our club has embraced vigorously since first playing this form of the game in May 2010.

Over the years PFFC has fought its home matches at various venues – illustrious and infamous – around the capital: Battersea Park; Regent’s Park; Hackney Marshes in the ill-fated and bureaucratic Camden League; Willesden Sports Stadium; Paddington Rec, Maida Vale; Hurlingham Park; The Linford Christie Stadium, Wormwood Scrubs; Wandsworth Common; Wandsworth Park; Weaver’s Fields, Bethnal Green; York Road, Kings Cross; and more recently at South Park, Putney. It’s safe to say that each of these pitches has seen its share of both ecstasy and despair. And this is without mentioning away venues such as Raynes Park, Merton, Crystal Palace Sports Stadium, Dulwich College and occasional Sunday morning excursions to the outer reaches of the London A-Z in Esher or East Ewell, the latter being home of plumbing outfit Burge & Gunson, en route to which Filippo Ricci famously remarked in frustration during a traffic jam: ‘People of Tooting, go back to your homes and eat your steak and kidney pies!’

Whilst our 11-a-side campaigns have provided some great memories over the years for all Philosophers, especially during the club’s title-winning spree from 2001 to 2004, it was always very tough, organisationally and financially – I’m speaking from direct experience here. The advent of email made things easier – no more personal late-night phone calls from the Gaffer to eleven separate players – but the spiralling cost of pitches and referees combined with the sometimes frankly appalling facilities that we had to endure over the years has made 11-a-side a less and less attractive proposition. This, especially in the context of the increasing dominance of football by corporate interests (indeed, in our league campaigns we often found ourselves playing well-funded teams from large corporations) and the increasing exploitation of loyal fans, makes the club’s switch to the ‘free to play’ innovation of 3sided football at Fordham Park, New Cross the right one in my view. This new form of football fits well with the non-corporate, non-profit ethos that the club has always been keen to promote.

Recent calls for the National Lottery and Football Association to plough much-needed funds in to grassroots football in England have highlighted the gulf between the vast sums of money generated by the Premier League since its inception in 1992 and the rest of football in the country. The poor showing of the English national side at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil served as yet another reminder of this disparity, but it appears the FA has only just woken up to the fact that they’ve been neglecting the lifeblood of the game for far too long. In comparison with Germany, for example, English football is in a parlous state. Certainly this irony is not lost on those Philosophers who’ve toured across Europe and experienced the attention to detail and fantastic playing facilities provided in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland and elsewhere.

Our first venture into the 3sided game at Haggerston Park, Hackney was part of a situationist ‘performance’ organised by the Whitechapel Art Gallery during the UK general election campaign of 2010. At the time, it felt like a one-off event. I played in goal for PFFC that day as we represented the Labour Party, competing with teams representing the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to realise a Danish artist and thinker’s vision of ‘triolectics’. This was an attempt to add a third party to the adversarial and often antagonistic binary structure of dialectics in order to create a more consensual and cooperative approach to football and, by analogy, politics. Certainly, before the game started, Asger Jorn’s approach may have been seen as playful, merely theoretical or even downright confusing for the players, but after the match started it quickly began to make sense. Teams quickly accommodated the possibilities of the presence of three parties on the pitch, and began to form temporary alliances with each other to help themselves against an opponent who was ahead. The game was interesting, invigorating and genuinely exciting – especially in the last third, as these games gather significant momentum and intensity as teams scramble for the win and alliances are rapidly broken and formed.

Since then many Philosophy Football players, myself included, have become total converts to this thrilling and thoughtful concept of ‘a better kind of football’. The club has since, in addition to occasional and then regular matches in London, played 3sided football on tour in Madrid, Rome, Bilbao, Istanbul and even in a 3sided world cup in Asger Jorn’s home town, Silkeborg in Denmark. These games have enabled us to forge links with diverse clubs in the most convivial atmosphere I’ve ever had the pleasure to play football in. They have often borne witness to exemplary acts of sportsmanship, fair play and friendship, whether on the bullring in Bilbao or in Taksim Square, Istanbul. Most games rely on trust, understanding and cooperation to make the ‘rules’ work – often in the absence of a frankly redundant referee.

In these times of over-hyped and over-priced football in which the ordinary supporter, especially in the Premier League, is waking up to the fact that our national game is deliberately excluding a whole generation of supporters in its corporate gold-rush, it is right for Philosophy Football FC to make a stand and re-connect with its philosophical roots. Playing conventional 11-a-side matches often allowed us to do this, especially when playing like-minded teams, although this happened mostly during special tournaments and tours, far less often during our league and cup campaigns. Now the club is rightly embracing the future of football: it is innovating in the true tradition of the sport and the club itself. The club has always attempted to subvert the status quo both in football and politics. With the help of Jorn’s initial vision and the formation of the first 3sided football league in England, we hope to do this again at yet another new venue – Fordham Park, New Cross – which is fast becoming a hub for new and alternative ideas in football.

To quote Albert Einstein: ‘You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.’ Three-sided football is Philosophy Football’s ‘next level’. If you share our vision of ‘a better kind of football’, it is imperative that you join us!

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