The game of futsal may not be one that is familiar to the majority of sports fans in this country but it is certainly one that has seen its popularity rise in recent years. Simon Wright, chairman of Manchester Futsal Club, describes his introduction to the sport.
“When I first got involved in futsal, I played a decent level of 11-a-side, came and studied in Manchester. Knew I wasn’t going to make it in a professional league. It was when I graduated, I was thinking what next?
“Started to play locally 11-a-side in Manchester as a reintroduction of getting back into football and it not really ticking the box of what it used to. I was looking for something else.
“I had a part-time job working down in West Didsbury in a local pizza place and a young lad started working there. We chatted about football things, he was Russian, we started playing football together but then he introduced futsal to me saying “when I was a kid, we played futsal.”
“I’d never heard of it before and he introduced me to how it was done in Russia, what clubs were involved. We were like ‘what would it take here? What exists in Manchester?’ At the time, there wasn’t much on the ground, about six months later, the FA started saying there was going to be first of all a local Manchester FA league so we found out about that. We were like ‘let’s try it.’”
“The league was up in Salford, it was outside on an astroturf pitch. It wasn’t really futsal but we persevered with that thinking ‘we’re doing it now’. It was us learning what the sport was about on a very basic level.”
The rules of futsal are like football but with slight variations. Each team has 14 players with five players on the court at any one time, a goalkeeper and four outfield players. The court itself is 40 metres by 20 metres and the goals are three metres wide and two meters high with a six-metre goal area arch around them.
The objective is the same as football — you kick the ball into the net to score a goal — but the games are shorter at two 20-minute halves. Unlike football, the clock stops in futsal when there is a stoppage in play so when the timer hits 40 minutes, the game is over with no added injury time.
Wright, who was studying for his coaching badges as well as working for the Liverpool FA at the time, found out the FA were planning to launch a national league and decided to get involved.
“A really basic beginning. Finding out what the sport was, how can we play and things just started to connect up.”
“One of the biggest challenges was the community was very small and it was reliant on football. It was hidden a little in small sided football, it wasn’t standing on its own two feet.”
The game requires a higher level of technical ability due to the ball difference. In futsal, it is a smaller size four ball that is heavier which makes it stick to the ground more. Punting the ball upfield is not really an option in this game. Instead, players are encouraged to use passing and dribbling to make their way up the pitch.
“If you were to research Ronaldo, Messi, there’s a plethora of quotes out there saying how important futsal was to make them the players they are today. That’s something we can look to.”
“A lot of people are saying why not? Why shouldn’t we be looking at how the Spanish have introduced futsal and given them this enormous base of technically proficient footballers? It’s about showing that insight that futsal has something to offer football.
“You have the purists that say ‘why do we need football? It should be a sport in its own right’ but I don’t think we can push it away at this moment in time. In England particularly, we co-exist. The culture of football is so strong.”
The game is faster paced than football, with a smaller playing area increasing the tempo dramatically.
“You’re going to see more attacking instances, you’re going to see more counterattacking. You’re never going to see a 0-0 draw, you’re never going to see teams that park the bus or throw the towel in. You can’t. It’s a game which demands you’re in it all the time. There’s so many different battles going on both tactically and on a one-to-one level.”
Manchester Futsal Club has increased its youth efforts recently and runs six sessions throughout the week for 7-16-year-olds at Bellevue Sports Village. The sessions are run by players of the club in an effort to give their teaching credibility.
“Maybe five or six years ago, there weren’t kids playing futsal. We started just to get the coaching going. We worked in different areas of Manchester just to provide our coaches, just to get kids sampling. For us, that was important because we wanted to see their reactions, we wanted to see the parents’ reaction.”
“We set up development centres around Greater Manchester because we had to find out which kids would be attracted to it.”
“We weren’t silly enough to think we’d replace football. We were always going to be the second option but how do we make it an important option? All we can do is focus on our presence in the city. Make sure we’re across every different area and if people come into our house, we can show them what we do. Our sport is futsal. “
The attention on futsal is rising and the FA recently announced a “For Futsal Fund” aimed at developing the sport of futsal in England. “I think the fund is good because it’s raised attention again. Everyone’s come back into grassroots football and they’ll be thinking “what am I going to do during winter time?” That fund is great because it’s going provide futsal balls and goals into facilities. If it allows more kids to be playing futsal over winter time then great.”
Wright recognised the progress the sport has made but was keen to continue on the upward trajectory.
“Futsal’s got a place at the table but it needs a few more people beside it to give it a say in what’s going on. It feels like we’re moving in the right direction.”
Manchester Futsal Club play at the National Cycling Centre and their next home fixture is on the 7th of October. Visit https://www.manchesterfutsal.com for more details.