Football on bikes - Meet Britain's only cycle-ball team, dribbling towards the World Championships

The GB squad are aiming to represent Britain at the Glasgow super worlds next summer

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's a cold November evening on the outskirts of Bath in south west England, and I've been sent to a leisure centre seemingly in the middle of nowhere to witness a cycling revolution.

Behind the doors of the largely empty Culverhay Leisure Centre, on the other side of a sports hall from some teenagers playing badminton, are Britain's latest cycling pioneers, the team which recently represented Great Britain at the Cycle-ball World Championships in Ghent.

Mark Percival, 29, and Jenson Harris, 18, played their first competitive matches at that tournament, and are now aiming to grow the sport, and maybe even challenge established teams in the future.

They might have finished last this time, way behind the central European titans of the discipline, but it is something new, a different angle for cycling.

Cycle-ball, for those unfamiliar, is a cross between football and cycling, essentially: there are two players on each team, who aim to score goals into a net, but they can only use their bike or head to touch interact with the ball, unless they are in goal.

The discipline has more resonance at the moment because it is one of the many different types of cycling that will be part of the mega Cycling World Championships hosted by Glasgow next August. Alongside Remco Evenepoel and Annemiek van Vleuten on the road, and Ethan Hayter and Laura Kenny on the track, will be some men trying to 'kick' the ball into a goal with their bikes.

It is a whirlwind of a sport to watch, played on a relatively small 'pitch' - hence just two players per team - with the ball travelling from end-to-end rapidly, and riders doing things on their bike that others would never dream of.

The bikes, for a start, are bizarre looking things, fixies with massive bullhorn handlebars, with a seat at the back, rather than above the top tube. They are designed for skidding around and hitting the ball, and so are radically different from your regulation machine.

The GB squad are the newest team on the scene, which is dominated by Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland, and so have a long way to go, but it is an interesting start.


(Image credit: Monika Schrott)

It is the brainchild of Felix Young, who helps with cycle coaching in Bath, and who has gone from playing around with a ball on bikes to taking a team to the worlds.

"It was unintentional to start off with," he explains. "I was doing a Lands End to John O'Groats fundraiser in 2014 during the World Cup and did some videos hitting a football about. I found out through some of my coaching with Bath and North East Somerset Council, that the kids just wanted to play football, so we did that. 

"I learned that it was an actual thing, and thought if no-one else was doing it, maybe we could represent GB. Four years ago it started to become real when we got our hands on the bikes, and from then on it was all focused on getting to the worlds."

They reckon they are the only group doing it in the UK, although they will be building up a new team in Ipswich to spread the message, and to create competition. In order to make the home worlds next August, they need to show that they have earned their place at the top table, rather than just being the sole people doing it.

"We need sign off from British Cycling," Young says. "The community of cycle-ball are very keen to welcome new nations, so they were incredibly supportive despite us being the newest team in the world. BC were rightly very unsure as it's not something they deliver, they wanted to know they would go and represent them properly. 

"One of the big things they put in place for next year is that we cannot have the right just to go to Glasgow, they want to see a proper selection criteria, rather than just us being the only people turning up. Hence the need for us to reach out to other clubs and built it. The aim is not for just us getting our shirts and going to the worlds, it's about building the sport long term."


(Image credit: Monika Schrott)

It is a crazy sport, with so much to learn. Not only do you need the appropriate bikes to start off with, but you need somewhere to play - the staff at the leisure centre were eventually talked round, once they were convinced their floor would not be ruined.

Then, you need goals, the Bath team's are made out of netting and pipes, and then some kind of base for the sport. Percival and Harris look great to my untrained eye, but they explained that they kept being caught out by rules they hadn't fully comprehended at the worlds. Imagine turning up at the World Cup with a hazy understanding of the laws, and you have an inkling on the baptism of fire that the team went through.

"We met the Austrian team, who went onto win the worlds this year, back in May, and the level of skill these guys have..." Young says in awe. "Every manoeuvre these guys make is mad."

They are keen to stress that they are not just hobbyists, not just Eddy the Eagle in the 21st century, but that they want to be the standard bearers for a new sport in the UK.

In might be difficult, given the sport of cycling is already a niche, and this a niche of that niche, but Young's infectious enthusiasm might just get them there. They already have three more people turning up to training, and with this new club in Ipswich, it might be the start of something. Something weird, but something just the same.

"We're just trying to help people who wouldn't know anything about this find it," Young says.

Well, if you fancy playing football on bikes, make your way to Bath or Ipswich, and give it a whirl. Cycle-ball is here.

Thank you for reading 10 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.