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Pro sports are returning in bubbles, but bubble soccer popularity is growing

Vinny Lances went upside down after getting checked in a bubble soccer game at the Stars Complex in Lancaster.
Vinny Lances went upside down after getting checked in a bubble soccer game at the Stars Complex in Lancaster.Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

There may not be a vaccine yet for COVID-19, but Ronaldo Vieira Jr. thinks he has the perfect antidote to social distancing in sports: Bubble soccer

It’s not new. It was created in Norway in 2011 initially as a gag for a TV show. It then spread around the world, just like you know what.

Vieira, a former professional soccer player who starred at Framingham High and Framingham State, founded the New England Bubble Soccer in 2016. But the recent coronavirus emergency left him deflated.

“It has been a rough few months and I thought, Oh my God, this is supposed to be our busy, busy season.‘'

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But when Governor Baker announced the four-phase plan for reopening Massachusetts, within an hour he started getting inquiries again.

“I got an email from someone just saying, hey, I think this is a perfect sport for us to do with my friends.”

Then the phone started ringing too. Vieira was ecstatic. The bad news had turned to good news.

“I just thought this is now a perfect game because people are in their own bubble. There’s no direct contact with people. So it’s perfect for everyone.”

Not since an accountant named Walter Diemer invented bubble gum in 1928, has there been so much talk about bubbles, especially in sports.

The NBA and MLS plan to resume their seasons in a bubble atmosphere at Walt Disney World. Baseball and hockey plan to play in tightly controlled environments, and the NFL is considering multiple protocols.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says the NFL should be insulated in a bubble or not play the 2020 season.

But what if you played in your own personal bubble just for fun?

Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban said he’s advocating for bubble soccer for his family during the pandemic. It would be cathartic.

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“Take them out in the backyard and let them just beat the hell out of each other with these bubble balls,” he told TMZ. “Maybe we’ll have a bubble ball league and that’ll be the first sport to come back.”

Vieira, 29, who played for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the North American Soccer League, says folks are desperate to play sports and have fun again. The inflatable bubbles are four feet wide and can be used by all ages.


Bruno Bonicontro, left, gets his temperature taken by New England Bubble Soccer founder Ronaldo Vieira Jr. before participating in a game.
Bruno Bonicontro, left, gets his temperature taken by New England Bubble Soccer founder Ronaldo Vieira Jr. before participating in a game.Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

He instituted new safety rules this season. Every bubble is deep cleaned and then stored for 72 hours. Players are assigned their own bubble, no sharing. A masked Vieira takes temperatures, provides disinfectant wipes and referees games.

“We have all taken all precautions because we want to make sure everyone’s safe. That’s the most important thing.”

Last week, under mid 80 degree heat and an unforgiving sun at Stars Complex, a bubble soccer game was played.

Bruno Almeida, 31, who does credit card processing for a living, has been cooped up for months at his computer.

“This is nice to finally be able to get out and do some kind of sport that you’re still able to be socially safe and still be able to be out there and have fun with your friends,” he says.

“It just reminds me of being in a bouncy house. When you fall you just pop right back up. It was different. Once you’re in there, you definitely want to, like, hit.”

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In bubble soccer, there are handles inside the bubble to hang on to. The goal is smaller and there is no goalie.

Ravy Silva, 27, a bartender and soccer coach said the score is unimportant.

“It’s not as competitive, but it’s still very enjoyable. I think it’s a nice spin on soccer and the bubble makes sure that you’re not coming into contact with anyone.”

Hayley Houston, of the FC Stars had a soccer practice at an adjoining field. The high school junior has tried Bubble Soccer before. She says it may look funny, but its still soccer.

“Well if you actually play it right, it’s really not that different. It’s more aggressive, because they’re really safe. They’re like bumper cars. You get tossed around. Yeah. It’s so fun.”

Vieira says bubble soccer is open to all ages and a private event can be booked for $400.

He’s hosted kids birthday parties, bachelor parties, and even Division I football players. No one has ever thrown up, he says proudly. But it’s hard to judge how aggressive the wide variety of guests can be.

“We did an event with a religious group. Once we got there, everyone was so friendly and so nice, and very welcoming. They wanted to help us setup and I’m like, wow, this really nice group of people. But once we started playing the game, it was like you just unleashed a beast and everyone was just going at it, " he says.

Today muffled laughter rose from the bubbles and for 45 solid minutes nobody worried about COVID-19. They all gulped water and went off to get pizza.

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“It’s a good workout, " says Vieira. “I still enjoy watching people play. It’s just fun.”

A bird's eye view into the bubble.
A bird's eye view into the bubble. Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at stanley.grossfeld@globe.com.