What do you get when you combine football and motorcycles? The answer is Motoball, a motorized sport generally unknown in America, but fairly popular in Europe. As you can guess, it’s no dainty game. Right from the noise and fumes, to the daredevil stunts that players perform on their motorcycles, Motoball is a truly hellish, cutthroat version of soccer. The relatively unknown sport is largely played in Europe, where many countries even have national teams. Some of the best Motoball players in the world are from Russia.
A Motoball match is played on a regular football field, complete with goal posts. There are two teams of five players each – four riders and a goalie, who is the only one not riding a bike. The players on motorcycles chase a large ball that is 40 cm in diameter and weighs about one kilogram. As the bikers speed towards the ball, they stop the motorcycle with just one foot and draw the other foot back to kick the ball. The matches are officiated by two referees, assisted by two linesmen. A match is split up into four 20-minute periods.
The goalies stand in a red area that is marked as a driver-free zone. The rest of the grass, mud or concrete field is pretty much free for the eight riders to tear after the ball, at speeds as high as 65 miles per hour. Expert maneuverability skills and lightning-fast reflexes are key in Motoball matches, as is the ability to shoot the ball accurately from the motorcycle seat. There are a few rules set in place for safety, like no smashing, but that doesn’t keep the players from getting hurt.
Former Russian player Boris Loginov, said: “It is one of the least dangerous motorcycle sports. The most terrible things that happen are broken legs and broken collar bones. Sometimes a goalie breaks his hand.”
“I find it a pleasure to play because it is very dynamic, the quick changes of situation and the goals,” said Sergei Chasovskih, another player from the ‘80s. Although Sergei was good at hockey and soccer, he chose this sport over the others.
The 250 cc bikes that these players use are specially designed for the sport, customized according to the rider’s size. A Spanish company currently manufactures the bikes, supplying them to almost all the major Motoball clubs in France, Germany, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania and the Netherlands. France alone has over 15 clubs, which are all commissioned by the French Motorcycling Federation. The favourite sporting season in France is during the summer (March to October).
Motoball is the reigning sport in several small cities and towns throughout Russia as well. But the first game ever was played in 1929 in the French town of Dijon. The game turned out to be so popular that it spread within a decade to England, the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium. The first official match took place in 1963, in what was then known as the Soviet Union. And it was in this region that the sport got completely entrenched.
Today, several Motoball championships are held in Europe, including the European Nations Championship, the Coupe de France, European Champion Clubs’ Cup and more. Needless to say, the leading nation almost every year is Russia, closely followed by France.
Photos: Courtesy of Norbert Hoelscher