William Shakespeare once said,” What’s in a name?”, and as Swamp Soccer so hardly learned –everything. Swamp Soccer, as the title so clearly implies, is the sport of playing football on the marshy ground, sometimes in knee deep mud.
Swamp Soccer as a sport is said to be a brain child of the country of Finland with Jyrki Väänänen being the proud father. The first championship was held in 1998 and had a sweet sobriquet –“the swamp baron” to go along with it.
The rules of the game are nonetheless designed to intrigue and perplex the random onlooker with questions. Swamp Football is generally played over two halves consisting of 12 minutes each with six legal players on the field at a time. The much controversial and much-fabled rule of offside which persists in the normal but otherwise mundane version of football has also been bootlegged off. There is no fixed number of players in the squad, which means that one can have a squad strength to one’s liking.
The substitution format is also different from normal football, with the matches being played on “rolling” substitutions, i.e. a player can be subbed in and as and when his team requires him to come on multiple times if necessary. Corner kicks, penalties, and throw-ins are taken by dropping the ball onto the preferred foot of the player who is to take it. The World Cup is held in Scotland every year, frequently on the last weekend in June and the World Championship is hosted by Finland, a week before the World Cup.
Generally, football is a game which requires skills, nimbleness, and swiftness of feet. However, the muddier version of the game requires you to be physically strong too; the former qualities though are optional. Many of the players take to the field completely sloshed and high, which makes the game even more difficult to follow to comprehend for the likes of us. Moving in knee deep sludge restraints teams from scoring too frequently and more often than not the games are always low scoring. One needs a great deal of stamina because even three full steps in the muck are enough to leave you gasping for air.
Football is considered to be a beautiful game by its lovers and with the advent of Swamp Soccer, a more grotesque and weirder version of the game is quite difficult to conjure up. It all came into existence when the town officials of Hyrynsalmi got down to business and devised an ingenious plan to use the vast reserves of swamp land around for sport. The sport received such fanatical popularity among the locals that news of it reached the neighboring country of Russia, thereby doubling the number of participating teams. Nowadays there is a tournament for women too.
Usually, other fun events like wrestling, swimming, fairs, music, and dancing accompany the Swamp Soccer event, which is more or less like a carnival for the Finnish. The most common among them is, however, the wife carrying races –where you run with your wife on your back and the winner gets beer equivalent to the wife’s weight.
However, the fun part is that one doesn’t need to be a professional player to participate in these tournaments because skill plays a very minimal role to one winning or losing out on a trophy. According to participants, no one remembers who wins or who loses- they just participate for the fun involved in it. From electricians and rugby players to even retired football players, everyone comes to Finland to be a part of this cultural ecstasy and wild frenzy. The Finnish sure know how to celebrate and be it through a series of insane and wacky sporting events or some way they have brought out their own distinct uniqueness. As a country, Finland is prone to severe winter months with little or no sunlight. So it should not come as a shock that they choose to indulge in such fun filled festivities during the short-lived summer.