Three sided football was devised in 1962 by the Danish artist Asger Jorn, and this version of the beautiful game is an extension of his links to the Marxist-inspired Situationist movement. Jorn saw traditional football as a representation of the “us versus them” class struggle of the time and wanted to create an alternative which reflected the complexity of society and encouraged cooperation. In this game, three, not two, teams would strive on a hexagonal pitch, collaborating rather than competing, agreeing amongst themselves what was allowable and not allowable, rather than being controlled by an outside force. In other words: no rules, no refs.

It is little surprise, then, that the bulk of those drawn to the sport are left-leaning, although Geoff Andrews, from Philosophy Football FC, believes its popularity is also linked to a growing disillusionment with modern football. “There’s an emphasis on teamwork [in three-sided football] but it’s also about individual expression, and at a time when there is a worry about the commodification and corporatisation of football this brings back the true essence of the sport,” he said. Two decades on from the first-known organised three-sided match, there remain no rules beyond a handful of basic principles: the pitch must be hexagonal in shape and equally divided into three, halves can last for any length of time, teams can vary in size, there are no offsides, and goalkicks, throw-ins and corners operate on the basis of each team having two sides on the pitch: if the ball goes out on either of your sides you get the set piece; if it went out off you, it goes to the team whose goal is nearest to the ball. The key principle is that the team who concedes the fewest goals wins, with goals scored only counting in the event of a tie, and it is this which leads not only to the cooperative nature of three-sided football but also to what Dyson described as its “element of bluff”. Gazzetta dello Sport’s Filippo Ricci calls it “organised confusion”.

In 2010, Sally O’Reilly, then writer in residence at Whitechapel Gallery in east London, organised a match in which three teams would represent the main political parties in a game designed to demonstrate the shifting allegiences and balance of power in party politics. Philosophy Football FC formulated a set of rules which could be used in a real situation.

1. Scoring
A team does not count the goals it scores, only the goals it concedes. The winner is the team that concedes the fewest goals.

2. Throw-ins / goal-kicks / corners
On the hexagonal pitch, each team has two sides of the six-sided pitch: the side with the goal (the ‘backside’) and the side opposite to your goal (the ‘frontside’). If the ball goes out on one of your two sides, you get the throw-in / goal-kick. If it went out off you, the throw-in or corner goes to the team whose own goal is nearest to where the ball went out.

3. Referees
While there is a temptation to have no referees with the following dictat in mind: ‘The game deconstructs the mythic bi-polar structure of conventional football, where an us-and-them struggle mediated by the referee mimics the way the media and the state pose themselves as “neutral” elements in the class struggle’, the match will have two referees, able to make discerning philosophical judgements.

4. Duration of match
Ideally, teams will play until people get bored, start to wander off, fall asleep etc: however, three thirty-minute ‘halves’ with teams rotating goals would work well.

5. Other rules
There will be no off-sides. There will be rolling subs, rush goalies etc.


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