Originally produced for the Grimsby Telegraph, online and in print on November 26th, 2014.
GRIMSBY can lay claim to its very own England captain after futsal star Ben Mortlock was handed the armband.
The 28-year-old, who used to work for Grimsby Town as a sports therapist and had been vice-captain of the national futsal (five-a-side) team for a number of years, was appointed skipper ahead of their win over Montenegro in October.
But the former Hereford school pupil says that it wasn’t until the home matches against Latvia at the beginning of the month that the reality of being England captain really hit home.
“The first trip was weird,” says Mortlock. “I didn’t feel like I was captain against Montenegro as it was all very fresh and strange.
“But when we came and played at St George’s Park for the first time – with so many fans and important people watching, and with that little bit more pressure on the game – that’s when it really hit me that I was the captain.”
Mortlock took over as skipper from Luke Ballinger, who is the Three Lions Futsal side’s most-capped player and top goalscorer – and still an integral member of the England squad.
There were no issues between the pair though, according to Mortlock: “He’s been a fantastic captain and we’re great friends.
“We spoke and he said that ‘if someone in the squad is going to replace me, I’d rather it be you'”.
England’s futsal team have trained at the St George’s Park National Football Centre since the £100m facility opened in October 2012, but their first fixture there, against Latvia, didn’t come until the start of this month.
England played the Baltic nation – ranked 18 places higher than them – twice in two days, beating them 5-0 and 2-1 to leave them in good stead ahead of January’s Euro Qualifiers.
“We weren’t at our best against Latvia,” added Mortlock, who has won 34 caps in his career.
“We did a job. We were sound defensively, but we weren’t as good going forward.
“We stopped them from having any good chances and we didn’t get frustrated. We’re killing off games now that we maybe wouldn’t have done in the past.
“We used to play teams and just try to not get hammered, because we weren’t able to train as much and just weren’t as good as some teams – some of whom we’d never heard of. But now we’re beating good teams.”
England have only lost two games from ten this year and have secured comfortable results against Cyprus, Wales and Qatar, and held USA to a 3-3 draw in June.
“The quality of England is down to those involved. There’s been the same core of players for England for the last five or six years. There’s 100 per cent commitment and so much playing experience in there.
“The sport is growing around the country now – there are so many players and teams at grassroots now and the national league is improving, which will lead to a better national team.”
Mortlock, who currently works for Hull City as their first-team masseur, has seen the game of futsal in this country change immeasurably since he started playing ten years ago.
“When I started, we could win a local tournament and immediately be entered into the FA Cup.
“Now you need to win that local tournament, then go through qualifiers and preliminary rounds. There are just so many teams now and that is great for the sport.
“I help out with the coaching of England Under-19s and there’s such a high standard there. If the standard was that high when I was 19, I’d have never of made it!
“Interest in the sport has grown and that’s obviously helped with publicity, and it’s a testament to the work at grassroots level just how far we’ve come.
“It’s massively positive for the future. If we keep developing like this then, in the years to come, we should definitely have a squad that is fit to compete at the elite level.”