Fans of "Swamp soccer" test themselves in Edinburgh mud

26th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Decked out in a tutu, Paul Wilkins joins 500 other paddling participants as he makes his debut in a football World Cup peculiar to northern climes, where the players compete on a pitch ... made of mud.

The rules of the game are similar to those of its classical cousin -- with certain key exceptions.

The pitch: Instead of the lush expanse of green favoured at Wembley Stadium, the playing surface is comprised of clumps of mud, regularly watered to maintain its stickiness.

The players: Abandoning the inconvenient tradition of wearing matching stripes, many of the competitors turn out in fancy dress to do battle in the calf-deep mud.

"The teammates can swap whenever they want because it is very tiring," explained Stewart Miller, organiser of Swamp Soccer UK.

The matches: Due to their strenuous nature, the games last only 24 minutes and the participants have to attach adhesives to the insides of their boots so as not to lose them to the mud.

The cloying conditions hamper any Lionel Messi-esque bursts of pace, but the spectators are made to feel part of the action as they are sprayed with mud whenever the ball, or players, bounce close to the touchline.

"It is really exhausting, it's ten times harder," said Myriam Vogt after her first match.

"But great, and very funny," added the 36-year-old French mother of three. "I love being hand-to-hand, fighting back and we laugh a lot."

Vogt came with a group of friends from Metz, east France, all in search of a new experience. Out of the 50 teams taking part, 20 are participating for the first time.

Most of the teams hail from the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, but there are also representatives from Poland and Russia.

The pursuit was born in Finland in 1997 and the world championships are now held annually in a north European country, like Scotland.

However, the amateurs appear to be more interested in finding an excuse to roll around in the mud than chalking up goals.

"This is nothing like football," exclaimed Tara Oetgen, a taxi driver from Leeds. "You have to like getting muddy, and it's just the funniest thing you've ever done."

Covered from head to foot in mud, Ali Miller extolled the virtues of Scottish sludge.

"It's warm and it's good for the skin," said the 26-year old Englishman.

On the pitches, the endeavour is obvious, never spilling over into aggression as the atmosphere remains resolutely childlike.

Londoner Paul Wilkins, 28, and his teammates in tutus pose jovially, arm around shoulders, with their opponents despite a demoralising defeat.

"It was the referee's fault, he favoured them," joked Wilkins. "And did you see what state the pitch was in?"

© 2011 AFP

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