Prague (AFP) – A dark-haired girl kicks a white football gently towards a black eight ball, then wrings her hands in despair as she fails to sink it in the corner pocket for a win.
Katerina Ziegelova, a 26-year-old clerk, is one of the pioneers of footballpool, the latest addition to the hybrid sports family.
The Czech footballpool league has just kicked off in Prague, after the sport made its debut world championships in the Czech capital in February.
A combination of football and pool, the sport uses inflatable footballs — white, solids and stripes like in pool — and a playground with six corner and side pockets, proportionately larger than the regular pool table.
No cues are needed as the players kick the white ball, walking on the pitch.
“I’m not much of a football fan but I like pool, and this combination is very interesting,” says Ziegelova, who has teamed up with her boyfriend Lukas.
Clad in black-and-yellow shirts complete with numbers and names, they lost their opening league tie against a team led by Jiri Novotny, who has organised the competition together with a friend.
Novotny is no stranger to ball games, having scored 20 goals in 89 matches for the Czech Republic national futsal team, according to the Czech Football Association website.
“I saw a video on Youtube where two Americans played the game in a garden, drinking beer and doing a barbecue,” the wiry 28-year-old futsal defender told AFP.
“So we designed the table, set up a footballpool association and started calling it a sport,” he said, adding this was the first such competition in the world.
Footballpool pits two teams with two players against each other, with each player taking on each opponent in two matches.
– Malls, bowling alleys –
This was the formula used at the first world championships at a shopping mall in Prague.
“We had 70 teams from countries including Algeria, Kyrgyzstan, Brazil, Afghanistan, Germany, Slovakia,” says Novotny, adding that a Czech-Slovak team won.
Prague is also scheduled to host the next worlds in February 2018.
Shopping malls are a typical venue for the sport as Novotny said he leased the legless footballpool “tables” to companies like bowling alleys which then charge clients a fee to play.
“This is really a game for anyone — at the tournaments we have organised, we had children, pensioners, women, men,” said Novotny.
The footballpool association currently has 15 playgrounds across the Czech Republic. In May, it expects to install another twenty.
– Big names –
Novotny has managed to lure some big football names, including former Hearts and West Brom striker Roman Bednar and ex-Dortmund and Liverpool midfielder Patrik Berger to the sport.
“It’s not just kicking the ball, I like sports that require some thinking and precision, like this one,” Bednar told AFP.
“I must say I fell in love. It’s not a bad sport at all, and it’s for everyone who likes new things.”
Among active players, Czech striker Jan Chramosta, a former under-21 international currently plying trade with the top-flight side Mlada Boleslav, is equally excited.
“It’s fun. You can make various bets and spice up the experience a bit,” he said, adding he had already taken on a few of his teammates.
“It’s a lot about technique, about the way you kick the ball, about tricks and rotation. Not that I’m an expert there,” he chuckled.
Living testimony for the benefits of footballpool, Novotny went on to play at the futsal league play-offs right after the tie, grabbing three assists as his Slavia Prague beat Pilsen 6-4 to advance to the top-flight semi-finals.
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