A question of sport... of a slightly different kind

Quintin Langley-Coleman recounts a joyous experience of zorb football

It was the summer at the end of my first year the ever inimitable Shad Hoshyar had organised an afternoon of zorb football. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, zorb football is a game played with all the same rules as normal football, but each player runs around enveloped in a vast, inflated, plastic bubble. You end up looking like a squishy Christmas ornament with legs. Alas, little did I realise that something so soft in description could in practice be so scuffing.

Leading to this fated summer day, Shad, in his entrepreneurial way, had talked of zorbing with some friends, and after spying a Groupon offer created the Zorb Football Society. This secured us GAC funding, so the price we had to pay to play this exotic sport was substantially mollified, about a tenner or so.

So, ten of us ruthless mavericks gathered on Pembroke Fields. We did not know what to expect (or at least, I didn’t know what to expect). The grass was green, the sky azure, and the sun shining and hot. The zorbs were inflated, and we climbed into them, easing their plastic bodies over ours with squeaky gracelessness. There were handles inside, and holding onto them felt holding a SWAT battering ram. Some of us threw ourselves at the ground to test the bounciness of the zorbs. Then the game began.

Here I think it’s worthwhile to point out a trend in the history of sports. For sports that are full contact, there has been a trend that, in order to stop people from getting hurt, padding has been added. Where boxing acquired boxing gloves, American football acquired helmets and shoulder pads; and as a result more, not fewer, injuries were recorded. This is because when you think you can hit harder without hurting yourself, you will. Alas, zorbing turned out much the same.

We lined up, five-a-side, barely making out the other players through the transparent plastic in front of our faces. But blindness never checked great sportsmen in the past, so we flung ourselves in with due rigour and gung-ho enthusiasm and charged the enemy. The first collisions were brutal. Think billiards and Vikings. Think moons crashing into planets. Think young men in plastic bubbles careering into other young men in plastic bubbles. In our pursuit of fun we had forgotten that we were, in fact, mortal, and we crashed into each other with screaming delight. A few new records for wingless human flight were set, and a pandemonium of scraped knees ensued.

We calmed down a little after those initial minutes, and our tactics changed from simply ramming people to spinning and clipping them. However, an uncomfortable reality reared its head. Not only did the zorbs have poor visibility (it being possible to see clearly only when looking out of the top hole – a manoeuvre that required an awkward leaning forwards to point the hole to anything worth seeing); they also had poor ventilation. This made the insides a humid, plastic sauna – the air choked with moisture of breath and sweat. Thus, when it was half time, we extracted ourselves from our zorbs and relaxed in the cool wind. We enjoyed a few minutes outside our sauna chambers before heading back into the game for the second half. The game went much as before: flying collisions; scraped knees; abounding laughter. Then suddenly it ended, long before we had had our fill. The zorbs were deflated, their caretaker left, and we walked home exhausted and glad, our appetites whet for new sporting adventures. •

Quintin Langley-Coleman is a third year studying Arabic