Originally published by Spark Magazine in November 2013, online and in print.
It’s the sport that has been widely credited with helping the development of world-class football stars and the game that has always seemed to elude England – but the futsal revolution is now set to launch in Sunderland.
Futsal – the small-sided indoor game which emphasises technique, creativity and quick decision-making – has been at the heart of plans for football development in the city, with the local FA and the Foundation of Light especially keen for the growth of the sport.
And the University of Sunderland’s Institute of Sport has played a key role in increasing the profile of the sport, with futsal now set to join the Sunderland City Predators franchise.
On 31st October there will be a promotional and recruitment event at The Bridges shopping centre, where Streetwise Soccer will showcase tricks and skills, and there will be two separate futsal holiday camps in April and August 2014 in view of the Predators side starting from September.
The Predators currently consists of netball, basketball and volleyball sides, and futsal will first start with junior sides for the ages of seven upwards.
Away from the Predators, there is also the men’s futsal league which, with 12 teams currently competing, is at full capacity. A waiting list of another ten teams means organisers will look into the possibility of a second division next year, as well as starting a women’s league.
“Futsal’s a great sport to get involved in,” says Linda Hughes, the Sports Development Officer at the University of Sunderland who focuses on the participation aspect of sport. “It’s a very skill-orientated game, it teaches fast movements in very short spaces, and teaches how to actually deliver the right pass at the right time. Something that we (England) seem to be falling behind in.
“If you look at the debates with England in football at the minute, other teams are just in a completely different class and the FIFA rankings have just fallen dramatically in recent years. We’re forever being compared to Spain, Italy, Brazil; the likes of whom have always been involved in futsal. They use it from a very early age and use it to develop young players.
“For adults, it combines the best of both 11-a-side and 5-a-side. I think when you get to a certain age you don’t want to be running about on football pitch on a Saturday or Sunday morning, in the freezing cold.
“We’ve state of the art facilities at CitySpace since day one, whereas other places in the city don’t. We like to think we’re delivering something that’s new and exciting in Sunderland.”
The Institute of Sport sit on the football development board in Sunderland. Other board members include all the football leagues in the city, the local council, the FA and the Foundation of Light – Sunderland AFC’s community programme which has been shortlisted for the Best Football Community Scheme category at the Football Business Awards 2013.
“The Foundation were really keen to get on board with us and very supportive of what we at the university want to do within the wider community as well.
“We did a lot of work with the FA and got some funding to get all the goals and all the markings and make it Futsal-specific. And that’s something that I don’t think many places this side of the North East have. That’s a big draw for participants of the league.”
“The funding from the Football Foundation and the FA has definitely helped us get the sport off the ground, and without that it would have been very difficult for us, and we’re grateful for that injection. And it’s clearly paid off!”
The £12m facilities at CitySpace mean that the appetite for Futsal can be catered for with abundance. The sport, now, is proving to be appealing to adults as well as youngsters, as more and more people hear about the game. The University’s men’s team, for example, had 140 students sign up at the Freshers Fayre, and 60 attended trials – a huge increase on the year before.
Josh Goodfellow, a Sport Science student who plays for the men’s first team, says: “I think it’s popular at uni because of the rise of the likes of the Spanish national team and some of their players crediting it to their success.
“Also, the facilities the uni has benefit the sport. The equipment and more importantly the courts at CitySpace will appeal to potential players as they are top class.
“I started playing Futsal because I love the ball at my feet. I love the pace of the game and the short passing. You get more touches than you do in 11-a-side, too. It’s a brilliant breath of fresh air, it’s fun and develops certain skills 11-a-side can’t.”
Hughes is also a futsal player and is clearly keen for the sport to develop. “I started off playing football, went up to county, national trials, all that kind of element, but for me as a junior there was never any real teaching of playing fast-paced football in a very small area. So now, being able to play it as an adult is very appealing.
“I’ve got a lot of passion for football and futsal, but for me futsal offers something more than what traditional 11-a-side football, or five-a-side football, or seven-a-side football offers.”
One of the problems that futsal faces, though, is that it may be seen as a development game for a football, rather than a sport in its own right. There are challenges in all sports to keep people involved when they progress from youth to adult level, but Hughes doesn’t believe it’s an issue for futsal as such.
“There is the same development pathway for futsal as there is for football, but I think once people become engaged in the game, they stay with it because the benefits of it and the differences are so good, in comparison to 11-a-side, so players don’t usually stray.
“What we’re finding now is that the academies are actually using futsal more, to improve the game of the people that are already involved in the football academies, so there’s not really so much a cross-over there – more a kind of additional string for football. But futsal can still stay very much separate.
And the sport will only continue to grow in England, with many places such as Middlesbrough and Leeds already possessing big futsal sides. “It is growing, it is getting very big in England,” says Hughes. “I think it’s getting to the point now where it does rival traditional five-a-side.
“The ultimate aim for futsal in Sunderland is to make the sport as big as it can possibly be, and to provide the right kind of services so that everybody who wants to get involved in futsal across Sunderland can be involved at the level that they want to be involved at.
“Whether that be providing beginner futsal, intermediate futsal or whether they want to progress onto elite futsal, we hope to have those services in place to make sure they can achieve what they want.”