It’s not often that Kemp Town plays host to a major sporting event (unless you count the annual bed push down St George’s Road), but on the 21st & 22nd July this year the Yellowave Beach Sports Centre down at Madeira Drive was transformed from pebble-dashed flood plain into the sun-kissed beaches of Rio for the ‘Lamisil Once Footvolley International’.

When I arrived, the loudspeakers at courtside were pumping out the song ‘Can I Kick It?’, the answer being ‘Yes you can. But you can’t use your hands’. Footvolley is a new sport which, as its name suggests, is a cross between football and volleyball. Born on the beaches of Brazil, it involves teams of two trying to keep a ball airborne long enough to return it over the net using only feet, head, shoulders and chest.

As well as homegrown talent, the Footvolley International involved teams from Holland, Spain and, of course, Brazil, so with free deckchairs on offer to spectators, I settled down, rolled up my trousers, put a knotted handkerchief on my head, and braced myself for some sporting action. In the rain.

Fortunately I’d arrived early, which meant I got to see the British teams before they all got knocked out. First up were a pair of plucky Brits who lost 18-9 to a couple of Spaniards who'd clearly played the game before. They were followed by a pair of even pluckier Brits who took on the mighty footvolley nation of Holland, raised all our hopes by winning a few points, battled gamely for a bit, and then lost 18-15.

We then learnt how the game should be played, courtesy of a couple of bronzed beach babes from Brazil. They were apparently the world footvolley champions, which is why they're allowed to take on the men. And beat them. Having wiped the floor 18-1 with their first opponents, they came out again to take on the mighty Dutch, and beat them 18-9. And people say girl power is a thing of the past.

By this time I needed a bit of refreshment, so I was pleased to discover that Lamisil Once had laid on free foot massages for spectators. Although it’s hard to keep track of the score when you’re sitting in a deckchair with a woman rubbing your toes.

Other entertainment included a Samba band, and a gravity-defying display from Daniel Magnus, otherwise known as Mr Keepy Uppy. Sadly spectators were a little thin on the ground on day one, but among those who did turn up were a camera crew from the BBC's Newsround. John Craven’s clearly too old to connect with today's youth, so instead they were represented by a ten-year-old boy. The young news hound, who to be honest was more of a news puppy, was quite telegenic (he looked like Donny Osmond circa 1969), but I think he was finding the pressure of up-to-the-minute news reporting a little tough going.

Having spent forty-five minutes trying to do his twenty second piece to camera (for the twenty-second time), first from the other side of the court, and then from a deckchair in the corner, the film crew finally decided that they might have more luck coaxing a performance out of their young star if they stood right in front of me and blocked my view of the game. Oddly enough, it seemed to work.

Watching the footvolleying action for much of the afternoon, it soon became clear that this was a tournament in name only. Not only did the Brazilians have the best suntans, but their ball control skills were head and shoulders (literally) above the rest, and they duly emerged victorious on Sunday afternoon.

As for my own contribution to this fast-growing sport, well that involved being hit on the head by a stray ball halfway through a match, and skillfully returning it in a single movement whilst simultaneously dropping my camera in the sand. I received a round of applause from the small crowd, and left with my pride intact, clutching my free Lamisil Once goody bag. It’s not easy maintaining your dignity as you walk down the road with a sand-covered camera and a canvas bag advertising an Athlete's Foot cream, but I think I carried it off.

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Published in The Kemptown Rag on 3rd August 2007

Can You Kick It?
by Phil Gardner
   Phil Gardner 2007
The Kemptown Rag