A game of three halves

All the attention may be on Brazil this summer, but in Denmark a version of football that requires cooperation between teams is being pioneered. Will Simpson reports from the first ever Three-Sided Football World Cup

We are at the World Cup, but this isn’t Brazil. In a field in the Danish town of Silkeborg, three football teams are playing on a hexagonal pitch with three goals. It sounds like a Monty Python sketch, but it’s no joke.

Three-sided football resides in the rarely explored no-man’s land between performance art, left-wing philosophy and sport. In part, the idea is to counter the confrontational nature of traditional football. Teams can collaborate together and the winner is the team that concedes the least goals.

The game was conceived by the 20th century Danish artist and situationist Asger Jorn, born 100 years ago. He based it on a variation of the Marxist theory of dialectic materialism: the idea that society is driven forward by the struggle between haves and have-nots. Since then it has been played occasionally at festivals and embraced by the quirkier end of the anti-globalisation movement.

The first Three-Sided World Cup may be being played in Denmark but it took a couple of Englishmen to get this weekend’s event off the ground: Fabian Tompsett and Mark Dyson.

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Tompsett is an author and academic, specialising in situationist game strategy. He organised the first game on British soil in Glasgow in 1994. He discovered the concept of three-sided football when translating one of Jorn’s texts. “I read a throwaway comment saying ‘of course nobody would ever play it’ and thought ‘hmm, don’t know about that’,” he says.

Meanwhile Dyson is the motivating force behind Britain’s first three-sided football club Deptford 3FC, founded in 2012.

The idea for the Three-Sided Football World Cup began in the pub. “We were having a drink after one game and Fabian suggested ‘wouldn’t it be good to have a tournament in Denmark in 2014 to celebrate the centenary of Jorn’s birth?’” says Dyson.

“I read a throwaway comment saying ‘of course nobody would ever play it’ and thought ‘hmm, don’t know about that”

Dyson contacted the Jorn museum in Silkeborg, suggesting that the tournament be incorporated into its centenary celebrations. When they agreed, he was left with the task of finding the teams; not easy when the game is still in its early stages of development worldwide.

And so this weekend there are teams here from France, Germany, Denmark, Poland, England and a group of Lithuanians who have decided that they want to represent Uruguay instead, hoping perhaps to emulate the winners of the first two-sided World Cup in 1930.

By the end of the Saturday the champions had been crowned: the hosts Silkeborg KFUM, coincidentally the team Jorn played for in his youth.

Dyson seems content about what the weekend has achieved. “This will help three-sided football grow internationally, though what it ends up being I don’t know. I have a sneaking suspicion it will split in two between being a proper sport and performance art. But there will definitely be another Three-Sided Football World Cup, we’re already talking about Germany hosting it in three years time.”

And what would Asger Jorn have made it all? “Well, he did have a strange take on things,” chuckles Tompsett. “But he liked to see people having fun and so I think ultimately he would have approved.”