Futsal: Free-flowing fun whatever the weather

By - Wednesday 12th November, 2014

The Croydon Citizen’s resident sportswriter, Nadim Lilani, takes a break from Selhurst Park’s windswept terraces to investigate a South American import

Futsal. An intriguing sport. One which I never automatically associated with Croydon – before last week, that is. Astros clean and hopes high, I set off to Streatham to play an hour-long session.

Fully-fledged international footballers such as Andres Iniesta, Neymar and Ronaldo (he of Brazilian nationality and 15 World Cup goals – as opposed to Real Madrid’s Portuguese superstar) are big advocates of futsal. Why though, you ask. Mostly played indoors, is this not just a five-a-side variant without a chance of showers? An emphatic ‘no’ is the response I gather following a first foray into the game.

The goals are smaller, the ball is heavier, and my word does this sport move at an unforgiving pace. Fair play also assumes a large role in futsal; an accumulation of fouls results in the opposition earning a penalty kick. Five strikes and you’re out, to be precise.

Futsal is exhausting, yet exceptionally good fun

Warm-up complete, I set foot on the court feeling like a year seven pupil at the doorstep of his new secondary school: very apprehensive, very vulnerable. Indeed, the gale force intensity of the match leaves me flustered after just 10 minutes. Restricted pockets of space, due to the pitch size, make quick thinking a must. Mere millimeters can mark the difference between playing that perfect pass and gifting a goal to the opposing team. Thus, each passage of play has to have a structure. You can’t just hit and hope.

Attempt a swivel, get dispossessed, run back the other way – a curious pattern emerges

I also learn that in order to be a successful player, you have to be able to turn. Constantly. On every occasion that I gather the ball with my back to goal, a rival comes steaming in. Attempt to swivel, get dispossessed, run back the other way. This curious pattern continues. Exhausting, yet exceptionally good fun. Soon my first shift is over as a teammate comes on to replace me. The ‘roll on, roll off’ substitution mechanism is a feature used in futsal; it allows each team to make as many changes as they want, whenever they want. So for me, it’s time for a brief respite from proceedings.

Or perhaps not. If involvement on the court demands extreme concentration, keeping up with the game from the sidelines requires an equal level of scrutiny. Back, forth, back, forth – I follow the pendulum’s relentless swing. It’s akin to ping-pong in its quickness at times. Tellingly, I’m anxious to get going again – what an infectious affair. Four more minutes of spectating, and the referee allows me to re-enter the action. Trudging around, something doesn’t feel quite right. The reality of fatigue appears to be catching up to me.

The scourge of many a Sunday league participant – bad weather – can’t influence this sport

Then comes a golden chance. With the clock winding down, the ball moves from goalkeeper to defender to midfielder. Pim, pam, pum. Suddenly, I am through on goal – and nobody is guarding the net. Hearts are in mouths. It seems straightforward. I contrive to release the feeblest of scuffed shots towards the target. A weak effort indeed, it’s easily mopped up by a retreating defender. Disappointment and frustration, along with a good measure of adrenaline, pump through my veins.

But the feeling proves short-lived. Late blunder aside, I head home more than content. This is the best workout I’ve benefitted from in quite some time. Futsal strikes the perfect balance: a hefty physical challenge coupled with substantial mental exertion. Getting used to the ebb and flow of it all takes grit, takes patience. It’s all part and parcel of learning a new sport though; emphasis on intelligent movement, maintaining possession and ball control bodes well for fitness and discipline. Furthermore, the scourge of many a Sunday league participant – bad weather – can’t influence this sport. Freezing, wet winter futsal matches do not exist.

Get involved: futsal in Croydon

If like me, you fancy getting bitten by the futsal bug, then there’s nothing stopping you. All the upcoming ‘turn up and play’ sessions, which take place at Streatham Ice and Leisure Centre, can be viewed at www.meetup.com/southlondonfutsal

In addition, a futsal skills coaching programme for children aged 6-17, called Kidstart, is taking place in South Norwood and Crystal Palace. For more information on Kidstart, visit www.kickersfutsal.co.uk. Alternatively, you can contact Derek, one of the organisers of the scheme, via email at derekburke55@outlook.com.

Nadim Lilani

Nadim Lilani

Nadim Lilani is a recent Hispanic Studies graduate from the University of Birmingham. A keen football fan and writer, he enjoys expressing his love for Croydon by documenting all things sport in south London.

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