Maybe it’s something in the Midlands indoor air. Or maybe it was only a matter of time. Either way, English futsal came of age – again – when the Walsall campus of Wolverhampton University played host to the first ever National Futsal Series summer showdown grand finals day.
It was a breakthrough moment for a sport granted a historic prime-time showcase with live coverage on BT Sport.
Coming just two years after the league’s launch, the three matches brought the old guard face to face with the new, the veteran names and clubs mixing and matching up to great effect against the coming stars and teams of the Fifa-sanctioned five-a-side sport in England.
In fact, when the veteran London Helvecia men’s captain Raoni Medina was the same age as the Bolton futsal club starlet Joy Lowe he was an apprentice footballer wearing the Verde e branco (Green and white) of Lisbon giants Sporting Clube de Portugal, jousting in training with a preening, pouting 14-year-old superstar in the making who went by the name Cristiano.
That was over two decades ago. A different millennium. A different chapter of sporting history.
Since then, the England men’s team captained by Medina for the past decade has been formed (in 2003), lost 24-1 to mighty Portugal (in 2004), won their first competitive match at the 45th time of asking (edging out Greece 8-7 in that rarefied indoor Birmingham air) and been summarily scrapped by the FA cutting costs amid a once-a-century global pandemic in 2020.
So the grand finals day, played out 10 miles down the road from the scene of the famous victory over Greece, marks an exciting new chapter for English futsal.
And I know a bit about chapters.
If the day’s events had taken place two years earlier, they’d have made the cut in my book Futsal – The Story of an Indoor Football Revolution. With a chapter titled Rewriting the DNA devoted to futsal and its place in the footballing England DNA context, I reveal the global history of the game and make a case for its transformative nature: filling the void of a long-lost art of street football – in the UK as much as in Iran, Spain or Brazil – aiding football player development and, of course, as a breathless, captivating sport in its own right.
All of this was on show in Walsall.
Medina, the Brazil-born England star, rose to the occasion at the death to grab the final goal of the day and seal Helvecia men’s team’s place again in the Uefa Champions League for next season. Meanwhile Joy Lowe is just starting out. She’s 16. A few hours before Medina’s beguiling left-footed clip-dink sealed the 4-0 victory against a ProFutsal side boasting the impressive Denerson and England stars Richard Ward, Russell Goldstein and Jon Kurrant, the teenage Lowe defied logic with a dazzling display of shot-stopping against Helvecia in the women’s final.
Roughly one astonishing save for every one of her tender years was not quite enough to prevent Bolton succumbing to the powerful Londoners who sneaked home 3-2.
In between these two breathless contests, Wessex demolished Escolla 10-1 in the Tier 2 final as England u21 international Jordan Matthews secured player of the match with a five-goal haul. The younger Escolla team put up a valiant fight but were overpowered by a ruthless pressing and counter-attacking Wessex outfit. For Escolla’s young guns, it’s the same theme: their time – and their new chapter – will come one day soon.
The bigger picture is looking brighter too.
The words of Marc Carmona, the celebrated former FC Barcelona men’s futsal team manager and coaching guru, come to mind. “Maybe the most important thing is the play without the ball,” he declared, when I asked him to define futsal’s uniqueness. He was talking about the relentless movement off the ball in a game that never sleeps. But it can equally apply to the events off court.
And this is where BT Sport played a blinder. With the presenter Pippa Monique assisted by the former England futsal captain and head coach Mike Skubala, the viewers were treated to the joy, excitement and lucid appreciation of the finer arts of futsal at the elite level.
On and off the court, a new chapter has begun for futsal in England.