Roller Soccer may sound like the mad fever dream of a disgraced FIFA employee, but it is a game that dates back surprisingly far.
The game may not be the first soccer spin-off you think of, but its incredibly unique twist combining high-speed rollerblading with the inexorable thrill of soccer makes it among the more enjoyable, if not surreal sports to both watch and partake in.
The History of the Roller Skate
Roller Skates as a concept, were first created in 1743, where they were shown off during a London stage performance, however, who actually invented it was never recorded at the time.
They were simply a circus curiosity, with little use outside of on-stage shenanigans.
17 years later, the brilliantly named John Joseph Merlin was deigned as the roller-skate inventor, but it would still be almost 100 years before anywhere for the public to skate would be opened.
In 1857, London opened the first roller-skate rink, bringing the ‘sport’ into the public eye, and leading to improvement in the skates design.
James Plimpton would create the design associated with the modern skate just 6 years later. A simple 4-wheel shoe, with 2 at the front and back did wonders for the skate’s manoeuvrability.
But up to this point, the real trouble was stopping.
Stopping in a roller rink was one thing, the sides could break your momentum, at the cost of minor bruises, but were someone foolhardy enough to skate al fresco in the street, stopping was a far more dangerous and difficult affair.
No doubt in response to Victorians flying through the streets and crashing into pedestrians, the Toe-Stop was added to allow for control over one’s velocity, giving the wielder of the skate complete control over their momentum for the first time.
As a result, of this newfound freedom of movement, the roller-skate grew in popularity in the 1880’s, as Brits had already grown fond of the invention.
Across the pond, the craze had taken hold of The U.S.A., Roller-Skates were now being mass-produced across America.
In a true testament to the popularity of the roller skate, 7,000 people turned up for the opening of the first Roller rink in Chicago, Illinois!
The roller-skate very much continued on its path, becoming a huge part of American pop culture in the 50s, 60s and 70s before the next big change for Roller skating came along.
In 1979, roller blades were invented, a variation of the skate, that took inspiration from the classic ice skate, taking the 4 wheels and putting them into a straight line, mimicking an ice-skates blade.
It was harder to control than the classic design, but what it lost in ease of control it gained in speed and precision. When mastered, the roller blade was a far superior creation.
To round it off, the popularity of roller skates had grown so much that Ronald Reagan declared October as National Roller Skating Month in 1983.
So that’s the history of the roller skate/rollerblade, but the obvious question is how on Earth did we get from circling an oval-shaped rink to getting a football in the mix?
Roller Soccer: A Confusing and Sparse History
Created in the English Midlands the game itself dates back to 1882. Little is known about quite how it first came to be, but on the 30th of January in 1882, local rivals Derby and Burton faced off in the first-ever game of Roller Soccer.
The game ended 2-0 to Derby, with F. Harvey scoring both goals, and could have had a hat-trick, but saw a goal chalked off, the referee deeming it as having gone wide.
From here, the sport faded in and out of the public eye, never coming close to being legitimised as a sport, until 1934.
At London’s Forest Gate Roller Rink, two teams of female players faced off in a match that was filmed for an item on Pathé News.
It’s clear from the footage that the sport was very much seen as a bit of fun, with both the female players and predominantly male audience hollering and laughing at various slips, trips and pileups that occurred throughout the game.
The sport once again faded into obscurity, before a brief resurgence in 1949 when Billboard magazine reported it was alive and well in Detroit. The exact details and scope of its popularity are nowhere to be found.
The following 50 years the sport cropped up here and there around the world, but was never anything to take particularly seriously as a genuine sport.
In 1995 however, that notion was about to change…
The game re-emerged serendipitously in San Francisco in 1995.
Roller-skater Zach Phillips was skating through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park when a soccer ball rolled into the street while he was inline skating.
He instinctively kicked the ball with his skates and, despite a limited experience and interest in football, immediately envisioned sporting potential.
Off the back of that one interaction between skate and ball, a whole new sport was born, simply through Phillips nonchalantly kicking a ball in the street.
Later that day he brought his own soccer ball to his group of inline skate friends who had supposedly used to kick pine cones when skating, making the barrier of entry for the sport, perhaps the lowest in sporting history.
Can you skate? Ever kicked a somewhat curved object? If either answer is yes you’re ready for the wacky world of Roller Soccer.
In 1996 Zack established the RollerSoccer International Federation and launched a website and with the help of his pine-cone-kicking friends.
By 1998, it was described as “well established in some areas”, though such a description is fitting of almost any sport, professional or not in existence.
In the early 2000’s organization established by Almir Falcão (known as Futebol de Patins) connected with the RollerSoccer organization.
The first RollerSoccer World Cup was held in London in 2003 and again in 2004, before tournament hosts started to rotate around the world, as European and National events also started to emerge.
14 RollerSoccer World Cups or Club World Cups were held up to 2019.
The country with the most active players and the highest number of teams is France, with UMS Easy Riders currently the defending Club World Cup Champion.
The game is played wearing rollerblades (inline) and sometimes roller (quad) skates. It has spread outside of America to a few European countries, being particularly well received in France.
A match is played between two teams with five players on each team. Matches are played for two 25-minute periods.
The objective for each team is same as soccer, which is to score as many goals as possible, and the team to score the most goals wins the match.
If both teams are tied at the end of the match, overtime periods and penalty shootouts are used to decide the winner.
Roller soccer is predominantly played indoors on wooden or asphalt surfaces. The playing area used is a similar format to Ice Hockey rinks. The goalposts used are also the same size as hockey goals, one meter high and three meters wide.
A size 5 football is used for gameplay.
There is no designated goalie and no use of hands, which creates a quasi ‘Rush Goalie’ of defenders dropping back to tend the goal, much like in certain forms of street football.
This encourages a fast-paced attacking affair, with a ‘score or be scored on’ mentality.
A major difference between soccer/football and RollerSoccer is that there is no slide tackling, with such manoeuvres deigned too dangerous on hard floors and with the game played at higher velocity.
Where to Play
Unfortunately, the sport of Roller Soccer is only available to sign up for in America, when it comes to English-speaking countries. The UK has had Roller Soccer competitions, but the London-based site to find local games of the sport has been inactive since 2017.
If you reside in America however, you are in luck. rollersoccerusa.com is still going strong, and the hub to get involved in this fledgling sport.