The golden jubilee Bundesliga is already underway. Already the fans have got the first taste of Reus and Götze playing together, an implosion in Bayern’s starting eleven, to envisage the Franconian derby between Nürnburg and Greuther Fürth and many more. Amidst all this pomp, let us take a trail less travelled to a nouvelle vague, a league which is in its fifth season, a league of a few extraordinary gentlemen – Blind Football Bundesliga (DBFL).
Blind football has its roots in Brazil but soon found its charm in other continents as well as Spain, England, China etc picked up the game. The World Championship was first held in 1998 and the current title holders are Brazil. The Selecao have also won the inaugural competition in Paralympics in Athens in 2004. China won it back in 2008. In Euro Championships, Spain have already won it 5 times. Today, nearly 20 nations have been playing this version of football.
Magnanimity of the most beautiful game on planet earth has always touched lives and made effort to eradicate social differences. Bundesliga had started to spread special services to their visually challenged janissaries for some time now. Since 2005, efforts were made by Hertha Berlin and Bayern Munich to reserve seats for the visually challenged fans and organize specialized commentary to slake the fans’ love for the game. Dortmund have around 20 seats reserved for the visually impaired fans. Latest to jump the bandwagon is Augsburg who have decided to reserve ten seats at the 30,660-seat SGL Arena to appease their seeing-impaired fans.
The specialized commentators have their work cut out too. They hardly find time to rest as they have to describe anything and everything happening on the pitch – from a neat pass that met its intended passer to a balloon that had invaded the pitch, from a foul conceded by a team to the persistent rainfall, from a spectacular goal scored to the reaction of the crowd. In the words of noted commentator Benjamin Schwarzenberger,
We’re talking the entire time. It really takes a toll on your voice — after all, we’re talking for 45 minutes in one sitting. We commentate the game from a very different perspective. You have to realize that what could happen isn’t as important as where the ball is exactly and what is happening right now.
The rules of the blind-football are similar to that of futsal. However, some rules are incorporated to cater to the visually impaired players. In Bundesliga teams comprise of both men and women.
- The rectangular playing area should be of and around the dimensions (40×20) metres.
- The playing surface shall be made of cement, synthetic rubber, grass or artificial grass. In case of adverse gaming conditions, like incessant rainfall, the surface could be covered. In any case, the surface chosen should be uniformly flat and raise optimum acoustic.
- The pitch is divided into three parts – 1) Defensive third: The goalkeeper of the side guides the respective teammates in this third. 2) Midfield third: The coach/manager guides the team through this part of the field. 3) Attacking third: Prerogative of the guide who stands behind the opposition goalie to guide the attackers. Throughout the game these exclamations will keep pouring in, “voy”, “10-1”, “Change”, “play the ball to your right” etc.
- Each half runs for 25 minutes with each team entitled a one-minute timeout in each half. In case a team refuses the first half timeout, the team will still be left with only one timeout in the second half.
- The ball is manufactured with a sound system capable of reverberating whenever it’s kicked at, making audible sound while rolling on the floor or even swirling in air.
- In case the ball bursts or the sound-system stops working, the ball has to be replaced and the match starts from the point where the previous ball stopped functioning properly.
- It is a five-a-side contest with one goal-keeper and four outfield players. The goalie should be fully or partially sighted as he is the guide in the defensive third. The four outfield players must be partially or fully visually impaired.
- The entire team consists of 14 members: two goalies, eight outfield players, one coach, one assistant coach, one guide and one physiotherapist.
- The outfield players are made to wear opaque eye-covers to nullify the advantages of a partially sighted footballer from that of the visually impaired ones.
- There is no limit to substitutions. Moreover, in case of an injury, an already substituted player can be brought back onto the pitch.
- A goal-keeper cannot be replaced during a penalty kick unless and until the goalie is injured and cannot carry on.
- If a footballer has committed five professional fouls in the game, he/she is no longer allowed to continue the game and will be replaced.
- In case a footballer is sent off, he/she can be replaced. But the player will no longer have the chance to be re-substituted. Here is another twist.
- If the player gets his marching order, till five minutes since his/her departure, the team will not have any scope for substitution. But if the team, which is one man down, concedes a goal during this five-minute period, they’d be able to bring another player immediately to restore parity in player count. However, if the team which is down by a man scores a goal, they’d remain down by a player till the five-minute period gets over.
- A goalkeeper, thanks to his visibility, is not allowed to take penalty-kicks, free-kicks, corner-kicks and kick-ins. Heck, he is not even allowed to get out of the penalty box itself.
- In case both teams are left with less than three players in each side, the game will be called off.
- The spectators must maintain silence during the game, as the players depend entirely on their hearing ability to proceed.
- The commentators play an important role in not only letting people follow the game at home or at the stand, but also keep the substitutes updated.
Failure of the German visually impaired team that finished at the bottom in Euro Championships in Athens in 2007 has ignited a passion in the country to establish a strong setup; putting up a strong challenge in the next edition of the tournament being the arrière-pensée. And the denouement is DBFL.
The results showed. Germany improved its performance and finished fifth in the 2009’s edition of Euro Championships. According to Reiner Delgado, Head of Social Affairs at the German association of the blind and visually impaired (DBSV),
In Brazil, Spain or England, blind football has already been played for several years now. But a league with as many teams as we have does not exist anywhere else in Europe.
The League was founded in 2008 by the collaboration of the Sepp Herberger Foundation(SHF) with the German Football Association(DFB), German Disabled Sports Association (DBS) and German Blind and Visually Impaired (DBSV). The Sepp Herberger Foundation worked meticulously to accumulate funds to promote the beautiful game in schools, prisons and in disabled sports to use the integrative power of football to society. Today Uwe Seeler, Oli Kahn, Horst Eckel, Tina Theune and Helmut Haller are all patrons of this foundation.
SSG Blista Marburg won the inaugural Championship. But MTV Stuttgart, under the tutelage of national coach Ulrich Pfisterer, then went onto win it three times running. They won all their games on their way to their third successive triumph. Eight teams participated in the competition in the first season. In the following three seasons, 9 teams played in the league. This season, the number of teams has again gone back to eight and with only one game to go, SF Blau-Gelb Marburg are favorites to snatch the mantle from the defending champions, the Swabians.
Teams like Chemnitzer FC and FC St. Pauli have been perennial disappointments in terms of results as both sides shared the bottom place twice each in four years. These two clubs’ best finish had so far been to be the second last in the competition. But the Grand Guignol of the past has never deterred the determination of their players and this year both sides have earned more points than in any of their previous campaigns. Not only that, this season the Buccaneers have reached their highest position (third from bottom, level on points with Chemnitzer) in their history.
And if one thinks that how difficult it would be to play the game blindfolded, you are obliged to consult Hertha Berlin’s then vice-president Dieter Hoeness or ex Hertha Berlin striker Marko Pantelic both of whom attended the inauguration ceremony of the league in 2008. Both stars tried kicking the ball blindfolded from the penalty spot but failed miserably. That goes onto show how difficult it would be for players who have residual vision to concentrate on the guide’s direction, mingled with the sound coming off the ball and that of the opposition camp’s instructions.
Since 2011, another gumption was taken in DBFL to promote the social integration of disabled people through this league. The pithy “In the middle of society, with football” has been used to make the league popular amongst the populace by playing at least ten games of a season on central public places of several cities. An initiative just to convey a social message that visually impaired people can live life just like anybody else – work, study and play football. Football. Society. Respect.