It’s no wonder that the mad sport of playing soccer while wearing a giant, inflatable bubble has found a home in Japan’s capital – a place where cat cafes, karaoke and brightly colored burger buns are just a normal part of the scenery – but how did it all come about? And more importantly where do we sign up?
To the surprise of the couple of Norwegian comedians who began Bubble Soccer as a joke for television back in 2011, the sport has rapidly gained a dedicated following all over the world. There are now over 30 leagues in the US under NABS (National Association of Bubble Soccer) and organizations are popping up everywhere – including Hong Kong, Australia, Brazil, the U.K and now, Tokyo.
At the moment, the way it works is that local entrepreneurs buy the equipment and then make the money back through private events. Bubble Soccer clubs can register with the national league (if there is one) but many are independently run and organizers are free to develop the club in the direction they want.
That’s how Paul Coffey founded Bubble Soccer Tokyo. Having played Bubble Soccer once before, he noticed how big it was getting back in Europe but not so much in Japan.
‘I wanted to start up a club that was a little different where people could meet new friends and do something that was enjoyable for all. After doing some research into finding the best equipment, and along with some words of wisdom from owners elsewhere, I finally decided to set up Bubble Soccer Tokyo,’ says Paul.
Bubble Soccer Tokyo runs public pickup games every month as well as private events. Check the schedule on their website or Facebook and you can sign up by yourself or with your friends before turning up on the day ready to barrel people over in the name of the beautiful game. It’s a great way to meet people and have a fun time, even if you’re not particularly good at sports.
‘Bubble soccer is something very different than your usual sport and I think any group of people would enjoy it very much. You don’t really need to be into sports to even play, just up for some good fun,’ says Paul.
The rules are simple. Teams of 5-8 people try to score goals against each other using their feet like in soccer but while wearing a giant bubble suit. At the start of a game, the ball is placed in the middle of the court and the two teams line up facing each other at opposite ends. When the whistle blows, everyone runs at each other and all inflatable hell breaks loose.
Usually players run around just trying to knock each other over, which for Paul is the best part; ‘Most of the time games tend to turn into sumo wrestling matches in the middle of the court. The main goal is for everyone to have fun so if people want to just sumo wrestle or play last man standing that’s good with us.’
Games are usually played on a futsal court or small pitch, and all of the equipment is prepared beforehand. Matches last only six or seven minutes but it’s a surprisingly tough workout. Bubbles weigh around 30 pounds and getting up from the floor (after the tenth time of being knocked upside down) only using your legs is pretty difficult. Not to mention how much your sides ache from laughing.
Interest in Tokyo has been growing with more clubs and even some schools looking to organize games. Paul wants to market Bubble Soccer to groups like company team-building or sports clubs, bachelor/bachelorette parties and other events. He’s also hoping to host a fundraising charity cup and to start an official Bubble Soccer League in the near future.
To get involved, join Bubble Soccer Tokyo’s Facebook group or sign up to their mailing list via the website at http://bubblesoccer.tokyo/.