PhD in Architecture, Bachelors in economics, Masters in Journalism and the INTO educational program. No, this isn’t an assembly of random chits out of a hat; this is the composition on Newcastle University’s Men’s Futsal team, well at least some of it.
Though known by a handful in the footballing community, first team winger Alex Ames took upon the initiative to formalize a Futsal team for the university, hoping to get the ball rolling for a sport that many other colleges already play on a competitive level.
Futsal, at its core is an indoor version of five-a-side football that merges the technical aspects of football with the movement pace and intensity of basketball. Positions are not set in stone, as the four outfield players constantly change positions, though there are those who specialise in different positions.
The problem with futsal and the university is that the teams always consisted of football players, who adjusted their gameplay ever so slightly, to suit the demands on indoor five-a-side. This year however, the emphasis was largely on creating a dedicated team of players fully trained in the sport of futsal.
Six months since its inception, Newcastle’s Men’s Futsal team stands joint top in the third division of the BUCS league, with no indication of slowing down. What makes this feat remarkable? The fact that only four players have had any prior experience with the sport.
Xavi Rodriguez Corral, a PhD student in Architecture, took over coaching responsibilities. Having played for the first team at Cardiff University, and at high level in his home of Barcelona, he was faced with the task of training an unknown band of former football players to not only accustom themselves with the sport, but also to develop the necessary skillset to succeed.
Training sessions during the first month were particularly difficult as the team would meet only once a week to train, with the only matches available to play were those in the Intra-Mural Futsal league. The squad at the time was thin, with only 8-10 active players playing week in and week out.
By late November however, Ames brought in two players who didn’t make it to the Football team, to help out with the Futsal one. While it may seem unfair to do so, this switch represents one of the most attractive features of the team. For around the 400 people who try out for the football team, only around 30 make it to the final team, leaving many good players to seek opportunities to play football in five-a-side Sunday leagues.
Whilst these leagues have an aura of their own in Britain, the possibility and opportunity to still play while learning a new version of the sport, is what the Futsal team offers. Doing this while representing your University is just a very sweet bonus.
The team at present is about as multicultural as an advertisement for the United Nations. Out of the current squad of fifteen, nine players are from different nationalities. From Peru to Nigeria to Poland to Japan, the manner in which people from different corners of the globe, bound by a common interest in Futsal, is what makes the team a fantastic social experiment and a learning experience unlike any other.
Luis Nakamine, a Peruvian masters student, had never played at a collegiate level. Having played both football and Futsal in his home country, Nakamine was surprised by the “high level of competition both in the BUCS fixtures as well as the FA Futsal league.”
Coming from Japan, undergraduate Shintaro Abe admitted that there was “a steep learning curve associated with Futsal”. He highlighted that the biggest difference was “the focus on the technical aspects of the game, and re-honing the basics of trapping, passing and calculated movements.”
Starter and vice-captain, Lee Tagziria was always impressed by the technical game and the fast pace of five-a-side football. Seeing the Futsal team as the ideal opportunity to try out his skills, which he has exhibited a level of proficiency that has served the team well. With regards to the foundations of the squad, Tagziria did admit to the difficulties of getting the sport and the team off the ground. “Trying to set it all up ourselves, trying to find facilities to train, sourcing equipment has been hard.”
Despite these difficulties, Director of Football Neil Baistow, as well as the football team captain Jack Taylor, have been helping the team out with any and all administrative needs. Tagziria hopes that in the future the support shown by the football team can translate into support by the administration so as to establish Futsal at a level as high as those of other universities in the North East.
With one eye on the future of the club, first year student James McKenna could well prove to be a cornerstone of the club. Having played at a professional level before, the Engineering undergraduate boasts both a wealth of futsal knowledge as well as a professional outlook. Having been surprised by the absence of an established futsal team, McKenna saw it as an opportunity to help set up. Though a big change from what he’s used to, the Kettering native has enjoyed being part of a process that he hopes will grow into something bigger and better.
Many universities across the North East have up to three futsal teams, the emphasis going forward will be on getting a larger number of players, to both increase competition as well as giving good football players a chance to learn something new and unique.
With many of the current crop staying for the next year, and some beyond that, it seems like the team will only get stronger. With the direction the sport is heading, it isn’t farfetched to think that it might overtake traditional outdoor five-a-side. The university would be wise to capitalize on the sport’s growing popularity, by building upon an already burgeoning foundation.
Newcastle also has a Women’s Futsal team, who currently sit 6th in Northern 1B. They play their last game of the league season against Northumbria 3’s on Sunday 5th March.