Is this the solution to England’s footballing conundrum?
From the Wally with the Brolly to miserable penalty shoot-out after miserable penalty shoot-out, recent years haven’t been kind to England supporters. The problems run deep; there are more questions than solutions. But perhaps one way forward that could heavily influence the future of English football is a small-sided, little-known variant of the game.
With over 30 million participants worldwide, futsal has played a major role in the development of many of the world’s top players, including the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. A record 24 countries participated in last year’s Futsal World Cup, which was won by Brazil who beat reigning champions Spain in the final. England, meanwhile, are ranked 81st in the world and are yet to qualify for a major tournament.
Played with a heavier ball on smaller pitches, futsal is a fast, more exciting version of football that focuses on spatial awareness, decision-making, quick-thinking and technique.
One local team who are thriving in the futsal world are FC Bicester. Despite only setting up last September, the club – who are the first youth futsal club in Oxfordshire and at present the only one fully-affliated to the OFA – have been blown away by the sport’s popularity with an overwhelming number of children keen to get involved.
Co-founder and coach Eddie Duggan says: “I went to a tournament, saw the facilities and decided to research, and I was so impressed by the game and the skill involved, we set up FC Bicester. We currently have an U7s, U8s, U9s and U10s team.
“We are hoping to expand but we already have 32 kids and we can’t take on anymore at the moment. It’s been very popular, we’ve been blown away by the support and really surprised how well it’s taken off. We’ve got a meeting with Heyford School coming up about using their huge sports facilities, which would be a big boost as it would allow us to take on more kids and expand to more age groups.
“The U10s now play in the Oxfordshire League on Friday nights. We also look at going to tournaments at weekends and during half term.
“The kids absolutely love it because it’s end-to-end, goals galore, all about quick-thinking and quick passing. The heavier ball doesn’t bounce about, which means it’s easier to pass and focuses more on accuracy and kids have to learn how to be more in control and how to use all parts of their feet.”
Having witnessed firsthand the impact of futsal, Eddie feels the fast-paced, all-action format has played a major part in the development of Bicester’s young footballers and believes England would benefit from introducing the sport into schools, which could ultimately help to produce a new wave of technically-gifted English footballers. He adds: “The boys have certainly shown an improvement since they’ve been here and taken it on to the next level.
“In Spain it’s part of the curriculum, all youngsters experience it and it plays a major part in their development. In 10 years I fully believe it will be part of the schools sports curriculum because it is incredibly popular, some schools are already looking at it.
“I think that, once it’s over here and played more widespread, it will have a massive affect on youngsters and will improve them, it makes good players better and better players even better.
“All the kids love it and really get into it.”
For more information about the club and the sport, or if anyone is interested in playing for their U9s team, visit the website at www.bicesterfutsal.co.uk.