Soccer is a big deal in the sporting world, but while the rest of the globe obsesses over World Cups, the European Championship, and which new players are being signed up to which team, Finland has their own way of playing the game. The quiet Nordic nation has never been a big player in the international soccer scene (their game of choice is ice hockey) but they have developed their own version which has become hugely popular; swamp soccer.
As the name suggests, it is simply soccer which is played in swampy, muddy ground. There are some alterations to the rules of soccer, such as games being structured in two ten minute blocks and teams being made up of five players. This obviously makes the sport more challenging and exhausting yet its quirky nature and added challenge is exactly what appeals to Finns.
It has an appeal to spectators as well. Rather than just watching people chasing a ball around a field for 90 minutes, they get to watch them struggle through the mud, fall over, and lose their boots, often while drunk. Scores are generally incredibly low, but that only makes it all the more spectacular when a goal is scored.
Swamp soccer first emerged in Finland in 1998 when officials in the town of Hyrynsalmi decided to take advantage of their surrounding swampland with a swamp soccer tournament. The idea is believed to be derived from a military training exercise. The first event attracted 13 teams. Today there are over 200, which also includes women’s teams, and another 100 outside of Finland. Many travel from across the world every year to compete in the championship, which is now in its 20th year. According to TheHindu.com, more than 2,000 spectators came to see the recent championship game.
To play a friendly game of swamp soccer in Finland, all you have to do is ask around to find out when there’s a game you can join. Obviously it is an incredibly physically exerting sport and you will need to wear some clothes that you don’t mind being ruined. Unlike regular soccer with its strict official regulations, swamp soccer is a much more casual sport by comparison, which is why it isn’t unusual to play while drunk. While there is a competitive element, even the championship teams are generally made up of groups of friends who play to have fun and because they genuinely love the game, not out of a desire to win trophies.
Any players are welcome to enter a team into the world championships so long as they register in time and pay the entry fee. If you prefer to watch as a spectator, you can travel to Hyrynsalmi for the next championship in July 2018.
The sport has spread to several other countries including Russia, Germany, Iceland, Scotland, and India. If you can’t find any local teams near you, you could always find an appropriately muddy field and call some friends together for a game, or even start your own amateur team to help swamp soccer spread further around the globe.