What is it about the World Cup? We staged our own finals in east London’s Bar Kick and it began to feel like the real thing. Sarah Richardson and Roxane McMeeken tell the story of plucky underdogs and amazing new talents

It’s Shoreditch rather than South Africa. In place of superb athletes trained to the summit of physical perfection we have an assortment of construction professionals in various stages of physical degeneration. And none are wearing “form-fitting Spandex”. That’s against the rules.

Arriving at Bar Kick for Building’s inaugural table football World Cup, it’s clear that there are a few minor differences between our event and the tournament that’s about to kick off in Johannesburg. It’s also clear that football fever has the industry in its grip once again, recession or no.

Lining up to represent some of the World Cup’s hopefuls on this miniature stage is a spread of exceptional (or in some cases, unexceptional) construction talent from across the globe. Each of our eight teams is captained by someone from the nation they represent, plus a teammate from any nationality. All are 2010 World Cup nations - apart from Ireland, who just have a heavy presence in the industry and wanted to have a go. The connection between Building’s players and Argentina is too tenuous to explain, but it does exist somewhere - and right now there are more important matters at hand.

As Ireland’s Tom Black puts it: “At the end of the day, it’s two men against two men. And then 22 little men. And a really small ball.”

The teams

South Africa (Szerelmey) - Gary Williams (standing) and Steve Dite
Brazil (John Rowan and Partners) - Juan Carillo and Walkyria Barbosa
New Zealand (also John Rowan and Partners) - Gurpal Virdee and Rebbecca Gray
Ireland (Hunters) - Tom Black and Peter Gibson
Holland (Franklin + Andrews) - Derek Jeang and Urmi Bharne
Portugal (Austin-Smith:Lord) - Luisa Ribeiro and Daniel Correia
England (Osborne) - Allan Fisher and Roger Maile
Argentina (Building, not pictured) - Roxane McMeeken and Sarah Richardson
Referee - David Rogers

Group A

England 9 - 1 South Africa

The crowd are silent. The players, strangely calm. The hype and the hullabulloo are over, the football is about to begin. England’s centre forward draws back his leg and sets the World Cup in motion. And it’s clear at once that South Africa haven’t got a clue how to play this game. England, majestic, crack in two goals, the second from Roger’s right back. Gary, a mountainous former semi-pro rugby player, who claims proficiency in 13 sports, retaliates with a spectacular own goal from the half-way line. Allan, who looks like he’ll have plenty to say in this tournament, efficiently bangs in six more. “I’m going for a smoke to get my strength back,” Steve mutters as he leaves the pitch.

Argentina 2 - 7 Ireland

Building has decided to atone for Thierry Henry’s crime by inviting Ireland. Just to make sure there are no hard feelings, Building also supplies the Argentine side (Roxane used to live in the Falklands/Malvinas - it’s a long story). As the ref signals kick off, we’re still establishing that the front sticks have more players, but the goalie has more responsibility (Roxane: “And it’s harder because it’s my left hand …”). We quickly concede a goal from Ireland’s keeper.

It’s more total fiasco than total football. And Ireland’s forward, Pete, is faster than a jet-assisted cobra.

Ireland 7 - 2 South Africa

Ireland go into the match as favourites after their stylish demolition of Argentina, but it’s a tense opening and SA hold their own until a minute in, when Steve commits the schoolboy error of passing back while his goalkeeper is having a fag. Two sharp shots from Ireland’s formidable Pete and Gary is reduced to making scurrilous comments about his wrist action before going down clutching his ankle. The ref spots the dive and waves play on. Another five goal margin for Erin’s own.

Argentina 1 - 7 England

Argentina are in belligerent mood. After their confused performance against Ireland, they have something to prove. Namely, how quickly it’s possible to go a goal down: 0.001 seconds. The second is scored at 0.003, and the game turns into a rout. Roger, the Stuart Pearce of England’s defence, takes advantage of his lead to make a futile attempt to demoralise Argentina by passing the ball across the back line. Futile because the gals from Buenos Aires are already gazing at the scoreboard in mute despair …

England 8 - 3 Ireland

This is the game we’ve been waiting for: neither side has really been tested so far, and the connoisseurs are looking forward to the contest between Pete’s venomous attack and Roger’s wily, mocking defence. The game starts at a frenetic pace and it looks as though the teams are amatch for each other; after a minute and a half it’s two-all and tight as a tourniquet. But Roger was a mean player in his university days and his influence eases the nerves of Allan, who gets the measure of Tom’s full backs. Meanwhile, more mazy dribbling from Roger de-fangs Pete and England progress to the next stage as Group A champions.

Argentina 3 - 9 South Africa

These two bewildered sides have only their pride to play for in the final game of Group A. Unfortunately, most of it disappeared long ago … But a few minutes in, something truly shocking happens - Argentina take the lead! But as we celebrate this momentous achievement, we take our eye off the ball, allowing the enemy to seize control of the game. When the final whistle goes, they are six ahead. Gary whips his shirt over his head in triumph - SA are not the most useless side in the tournament. We are.

(see Group A: The Final Table, right)

Group B

Brazil 4-4 Holland

Controversy erupts like an unhappy Icelandic volcano after Brazil’s Walkyria has a goal disallowed for spinning her rod in the first minute of the game. The Brazilians protest but the ref waves them away and play resumes. These sides play an attractive brand of football, and the ball is soon smashed from end to end, and net to net: Holland score, Brazil equalise. Momentarily distracted, Urmi hits an own goal but then Derek scores again. In the right goal. It’s 4-3 to Holland and we’re playing time added on. The Brazilians look sick as parrots … but as the ref is inflating his lungs to blow the whistle, Walkyria yelps as she buries the ball in the Dutch net. The best game so far ends in a draw.

New Zealand 0 - 9 Portugal

“Aaaargh!” remarks New Zealand’s Rebbecca as she scores an own goal with her first kick. Portugal score again seconds later with deadly precision. And again. And again. And… to cut a long and repetitive story short, New Zealand are overrun. Daniel, in defence, doesn’t look like letting anything past, but finds the time to score three goals of his own. At the other end, Luisa’s front three keep disappearing in a blur of motion, followed by a riflecrack as another goal is scored. A shaken New Zealand retire for a team talk and more beer.

Holland 1-6 Portugal

This match makes it clear that it isn’t so much that New Zealand were rubbish as Portugal are slightly better than Brazil were in 1970. They do let a goal in, however, prompting gasps from the crowd, but it’s the only flaw in another dominant performance. In fact, scoring might have been a tactical mistake by Derek as it only seems to make the Portuguese even faster and more aggressive. After the match ends, Luisa and Daniel give an interview to the press. Have they, by any chance, played before?

“I had my first table football game when I was three,” says Luisa. Ah. Daniel adds: “It’s a Portuguese thing. We used to skip lessons so we could go and play.” Ladies and gentlemen: meet the tournament favourites.

Brazil 6-3 New Zealand

Things are hotting up now. And not just at the bar. The two players of Brazil have changed position and Juan’s showing some proper Brazilian skill (even though he’s Columbian). He scores twice and it starts to look like a familiar tale, but Rebecca, who is putting in the kind of muscular effort usually seen in the last 10m of an Olympic rowing final, finally gets one in the back of the net. Then she scores again and it looks like the Kiwis’ drought is over. Juan keeps yelling “noooooo” as though to encourage them, but the score is 5-2 and time is slipping away. Then the Kiwis score, raising one last crazy mad hope before the boy from Brazil (ie Colombia) puts the matter beyond doubt.

New Zealand 6-1 Holland

No sooner are New Zealand gone than they’re back again, still screaming, and the reasonable Dutch are unprepared for this level of maniacal, Haka-like aggression. The Dutch defence, usually so composed, is struck with a flurry of blows as Gurpal converts chance after chance. “It must be the drink”, says Derek, with a shake of his head. But finally he unleashes a tremendous, Hagi-like strike from the back. It cuts straight through most of the Kiwi defence but is saved by the keeper’s tiny wooden fingertips. Dutch heads go down when New Zealand score again, then, in the last few seconds they scrape a consolation goal - not that they appear hugely consoled.

Brazil 0-9 Portugal

As soon as the whistle blows Portugal is on the attack and scoring faster than the human eye can see. Brazil are discomfited. Walkyria does that yelping thing again. They change position again, but Portugal score again. They change back. Portugal score another three. Nothing seems to work. Walkyria stops to shake a startled Juan by the shoulders, but even that does nothing to improve their performance. If only they trained a little harder - by starting at the age of three, for example. If only they hadn’t wasted their youth getting an education … As the ref’s whistle blows, it’s sadly apparent that it’s too late now.

(see Group B: The Final Table, right)

Semi Finals

England 8-1 Brazil

There’s something about the way that Allan is wearing his football shirt over the top of his shirt, tie and cufflinked sleeves that doesn’t inspire confidence. Doesn’t he look a bit … well, English? When he comes up against the uninhibited, liquid grace of Brazil in full flow, the effortless, rhythmical approach play, the sudden moments of fantasy, ecstasy and unpredictable yelping, is he psychologically equipped?

Luckily, Brazil calm the nerves of England’s supporters by opening the game with an own goal, and, as you’d expect, it’s a splendid one. This seems to spur on Walkyria, who soon levels the score, and although Roger’s game is getting better and better - where is Allan? England are getting a bit of stick from the crowd around the table now. Someone in the Irish squad remarks: “This is about as close as England will get to the World Cup final”. But Brazil fail to convert their early form into goals, and gradually England get the measure of them, and start scoring. Seeing as Allan says he’s never played before, and Roger hasn’t played for “about 40 years” they’re not doing too badly. In fact, they are an incredible five up. Against Brazil. They even score a few more and the ref’s so excited he’s taken it upon himself to start commentating in the style of John Motson … “England are in the final! Could this be 1966 all over again?”

Portugal 9-5 Ireland

This is the game that many thought ought to be the final, and although Portugal are favourites - their aggregate score is, after all, 24-1- Ireland is the first team to give the school-dodging overachievers a proper game. Luisa Eusébio Ribeiro is foiled time and time again by Tom’s imperturbable defence, and Pete “the Scaley One” Gibson seems actually to be worrying Daniel. Portugal take the lead, but amazingly, Ireland pull two back. Portugal are behind.

There a moment of stunned silence before the crowd begin shouting for Tom and Pete, the plucky underdogs who are performing a miracle. Drinks are spilled, strangers embraced, weird dances attempted. A spontaneous ceilidh is swirling around the table. Luisa even takes her watch off. Could this be the biggest upset of the cup?

After what seems like hours (but is probably about 40 seconds) Portugal equalise. The Irish grit their teeth and reach for strength they didn’t know they had. But they do have it. They score again. So do Portugal. So do Ireland. Then, with two minutes to go, Luisa and Daniel change gear. Daniel bangs in two specular goals, one with his left back, the other with his goalkeeper, and Luisa joins in. Tom’s defence finally cracks and Portugal score their customary nine goals. Which puts them in the final.

Against England.

The final

England vs Portugal

The crowd is pressing against the edges of the table, Allan has finally emerged from the gents wearing only one shirt and England are starting their first World Cup final for 44 years. The coin spins in the air. It’s in Portugal’s favour. Luisa taps the ball twice on the side of the stadium and kicks off. Luisa vs Roger. It’s like Pelé vs Bobby Moore. Canny, pipesmoking Roger shows, moves, feints, denies, strikes. Time and again he puts the ball at Allan’s feet. Luisa just strikes. Like lightning. And as Daniel gets the better of Allan, she has more and more attacks. She must score, and does, a stunning goal from midfield. It’s swiftly followed by two more. England try to slow things down, Roger passes the ball in his own half while they regroup, and the crowd are turning against them. “Same old England,” shouts one. “Bottled it at the last minute!” “Route one!” shouts another. But Roger’s tactics seem to pay off as England snatch one back in a goalmouth scramble. It’s not over yet - but the English lack penetration in attack. They’re also losing the midfield battle, and the step up to 10 minutes seems to be exposing their lack of match fitness. But against the run of play, they grab three more - surely this can’t be happening …

As before, a series of goals from Daniel begins the rout and in no time at all its 17-7 … there’s a great save from the English goalie but it’s too late, there’s no way back. Some very small people are on the pitch. The ref is dancing. It’s all over … Portugal are the new world champions.

And Building’s football frenzy doesn’t stop there. Find out how to enter our (life-size) Soccer Skills contest at www.building.co.uk/soccerskills