3 Times the Worlds of Football and Motorsport Met

Superleague Formula game.jpg
Image: Ivo Simons / ISI
The UEFA European Championship is commencing its Round of 16 on June 29. This got Luca thinking of the times when football and motorsport crossed paths.

Germany is the site of the 2024 UEFA European Championship, making the country the center of attention of football (or soccer) fans worldwide. The tournament's Round of 16 starts tonight - but football does not have anything to do with racing, right? Well, usually not, but there were times when the two sports crossed paths.

I am not a football fan, but that is not to say that I hate it, just that my knowledge about it is limited. However, even for those who do not follow football, it would be a stretch to claim that it is not one of the most popular sports in the world. There is no escaping it.


Football and motorsport may both be immensely popular forms of sport, but they are truly worlds apart. In food terms, football can be likened to a pizza whilst motorsport is a marshmallow. You may like both, but could you put marshmallow on a pizza and have it taste good? Probably not.

But that did not stop some optimistic people from trying that combination. On at least three occasions, football and motorsport have met in the middle, and this list will recount these instances. Beyond the times when football teams sponsored racing cars like the Sauber F1 team and Chelsea F.C. partnership in 2012.

Superleague Formula​

From 2005 to 2009, the 'World Cup of Motorsport' existed with drivers representing their countries, known as A1 Grand Prix. It is a stretch to suggest that countries competing against each other is a concept that only football can claim. But starting in 2008, the motorsport championship with a more direct connection to football was Superleague Formula.

How did this series present itself as football at 300kph? Did the pit crew have to kick a tyre into the pitbox after their driver got a penalty? Did the crowd chant "My grandma could go faster!" when someone failed to score a point? Or after a gentle tap in a slow speed corner, would a driver pull over, get out the car and cling to their helmet in hopes of the stewards giving the other competitor a drive-through?

No, none of that of course. It was that all cars were representing a football club rather than a racing team. In the inaugural season, the likes of Liverpool F.C., A.C. Milan and Borussia Dortmund all had representative entries.


The absurdity and novelty of a racing series revolving around football clubs may not have swayed some people, but the car may have. It had a 4.2-litre 750 horsepower V12 and weighed around 750 kilograms, plus in the later seasons it had a push-to-pass system. Compared to an F1 car, the fastest race lap in the 2009 round at Monza was 1:36.466, whilst last year's fastest F1 race lap in the Italian GP was 1:25.072.

If you fancy learning more about Superleague Formula, I recommend this amazingly insightful video by Josh Revell.

The series may have died a slow death, but not before there was an officially-licenced racing game of it made. Superleague Formula 2009: The Game was developed by Image Space Incorporated - that same ISI which is responsible for the rFactor titles. It was for all intents and purposes, a glorified rFactor mod with the cars and tracks from the 2009 season, and it never released on console.


Here is a fun fact: former FC Basel 1893 driver Max Wissel - who finished 3rd overall in the 2009 and 2010 Superleague Formula seasons - has raced competitively at a high level on the Codemasters F1 games. In some of the smaller independent league communities, Wissel competed against some of the most successful drivers in F1 Esports like Jarno Opmeer, Brendon Leigh, Lucas Blakeley, Thomas Ronhaar and Nicolas Longuet.

Not to mention that on 31 January 2024 at the ripe old age of 34 (at least relative to the competition) being called upon to fill in for a vacancy, Wissel took pole and won in the Barcelona round of Premier Sim Gaming Leagues top PC tier against all of those aforementioned drivers. Just turning up for that one race and winning against all these young upstarts? Back of the net stuff, right there!


Speaking of people connected to football clubs racing on the F1 game..

Footballers in Virtual GP​

Of course we all remember the dark times, when motorsport and in fact all sports had to be called off due to the lockdowns in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 Australian Grand Prix was cancelled at the last minute, and in its place came two major sim race events featuring a couple of F1 drivers, one of which also featured a footballer.

Veloce Esports is a gaming team founded by former F1 driver Jean-Éric Vergne who currently operate the F1 Sim Racing divisions of McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari. They decided to organise the 'Not the Aus GP', and competitors included but were not limited to Lando Norris, Stoffel Vandoorne, Esteban Gutiérrez, Jimmy Broadbent, Steve 'Super GT' Alvarez Brown - and a goalkeeper for Real Madrid.


Thibaut Courtois displayed genuine enthusiasm to compete in these events, and he did pretty decent in them too. Finishing 11th in the Not the Aus GP, he went on to be a mainstay in F1's own Virtual Grand Prix series races and picked up a couple of fourth place finishes in later Veloce Not the GP events. Over time, more prominent players got in on the fun, and you could think it was Courtois inspiring them to do it.

In truth however, it was more likely that it inspired the people behind the scenes of clubs to put their players in a sim rig and tell them to take part. Ciro Immobile, Sergio Agüero, Arthur Melo, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Aymeric Laporte all took part in F1 Virtual Grand Prix events. Some were better than others, but you just got the sense that it was all primarily a corporate exercise.

No disrespect to the players of course, maybe some genuinely wanted to do it. Courtois had the skill and love for it, so it was great to see. But in stark contrast, seeing Agüero being miles off the pace and spinning almost every other corner just made it all feel like merely an excuse to put the players ahead of the actual F1 drivers in the TV advertisements for the event.

'SocCar'​

In my opinion, the only time it is excusable to use the term soccer over football is when it is paired with the word car to refer to the art of playing the game with cars, since it works as a pun. It is a wonder why playing football with cars never became a proper mainstream sport. I, for one, would watch that over the actual game. We all remember the episodes of Top Gear in which Hammond and May did just that, but they apparently were not the first people to do it.

'Autoball' was founded back in 1933 by German racing driver Karl Kappler, and was relatively popular in Brazil during the early 1970s before being banned due to the oil crisis. There was a short-lived series of events in Germany, and it is just such a shame that it has never caught on. If you want to learn more, read this article on Autoball.

Of course, there is a 'SocCar'/car football game, Rocket League. I will always sing this game's praises and highly recommend it to anyone, but even I as a Rocket League fanboy will not argue against the fact that it is not representative of real driving. It just would not work with the jumping, boosting and acrobatics, but luckily for us, one racing game did depict a more grounded version of car football/'SocCar'/'Autoball'.


Forza Motorsport 4's football game mode looked like a ton of fun, although it would definitely need to discourage full on contact. Plus, there are some questionable physics that just do not reflect reality. You know what would be amazing? If someone made a car football mod for Assetto Corsa, I will be forever indebted to you. I was not able to find a pre-existing one and instead just someone on Reddit saying "go play Rocket League".

I maintain my position that a car football championship in real life could be an absolute hit, and it should be revived with small microcars like the Smart EQ ForTwo, Renault Twizy or MINI Cooper SE. In fact, why not have this be what football clubs try to do in an attempt to bridge the gap between motorsport and football? Since Superleague Formula failed to do that.

Plus with having a way to play a more grounded and aligned with realism version of car football with a sim rig setup, there is a lot of untapped potential.

Are there any other instances of the football and motorsport world crossover that we may have missed? Let us know on Twitter @OverTake_gg or in the comments below!
About author
Luca [OT]
Biggest sim racing esports fan in the world.

Comments

The first image brings good memories to the retina. It was the team I picked for the fantastic courage that series produced - even as the season went on, as far as I reckon.
 
Premium
Worth noting aswell Fabien Barthez (ex Manchester united goalkeeper) raced gt3 up until a couple of years ago
Oh I seem to recall hearing "footballer" when watching a Le Mans broadcast too. Was that Barthez?
 
Kimi Raikkonen at the 2006 Brazilian GP will forever be my favourite motorsports and soccer cross over...
 
As today English premier league is more and more like Formula 1. Teams are based in the UK but the players are from all the world and even the teams have more fans from outside the UK. I mean football clubs have lost all their identity by having players totally unrelated in terms of culture, they just converge in a team. I think an European super league or something would make more sense than local leagues which are dominated by the same 3-4 teams every year.
 
Those V12 in Superleague were glorious sounding! It was a badly run championship, but boy the engine was fantastic! Of course, it added massively to the costs, but IMHO it was worth it.
 
There were also the Newcastle United sponsored and liveried Lister Storms in the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans
 
Last edited:
OverTake
Premium
There were also the Newcastle United sponsored and liveried Lister Storms in the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans
Oh yeah, I remember playing Le Mans 24 on the PS1 as a kid and thinking that that logo looks familiar, but I did not know why. Imagine my suprise when I found out years later :D

Also, remember the annual F1 driver vs journalists match? Not sure if that is still a thing, but I do remember that The Michael always showed that he was pretty decent on the pitch as well. Think that was ahead of the German GP each year.
 

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