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Alicia Povey debunks the misconceptions around Women’s Futsal – it isn’t just a small-sided version of football, after all…

If you’d asked me when I was eighteen what Futsal was, I would have stared blankly at you. By that time, I had already been playing football for over ten years at numerous clubs and was packing my bags to go abroad to play in Spain for a year. You could easily see that I was deep down the football rabbit hole already. Even during that first stint in Spain, one of the biggest Futsal nations in the world, that blank look would have remained as I hadn’t been exposed to the sport at all.

So, don’t worry – I won’t judge you if you aren’t sure what Futsal is! It wasn’t until I started at the University of Bath that I was fully educated about the game and even then it wasn’t entirely by my own choice. When I joined the university and started playing for the women’s performance football team, we were required to take part in a weekly Futsal session, and nearly all of us ended up competing in both BUCS (British Universities and College Sport) football and Futsal as a consequence. Looking back, I was very lucky to get involved at university. If you take a cross-section of UK universities, very few of them offer Futsal to their students compared with other sports, even though the BUCS league is very strong and university is the perfect place to grow the game. The lack of Futsal on offer is perhaps one of the reasons why the game is often hindered by misconceptions.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Futsal is that a good footballer makes a good Futsal player. I remember one Futsal game for university where we travelled down to Marjons University in Plymouth with a mere five players. Out of those players, none of us were playing first team football at the time and two of the team weren’t playing football full-stop. Marjons arrived with a team of twelve football players and were probably thinking it was going to be an absolute walkover seeing the five of us – we were already looking rather tired after setting off from Bath at 4am to make it in time for kick off.

But that’s the thing about Futsal…it’s not football. Despite there only being five of us, we had drilled rotations (in-game set plays) to a T, and while Marjons were trying to play football on a smaller scale, we were playing Futsal as the game is intended. Quick passing, constant rotation and movement of player positions along with involvement of the keeper. Myself and keeper Alice Evans (who now plays Futsal full-time in Italy) even managed to pull off a move we’d been aching to try: Alice made a save, threw the ball the entire length of the court, and I was there to head the ball past their keeper – absolutely golden! The game ended 8-0 and we stopped at KFC to celebrate on the way home. Safe to say Marjons had seriously underestimated the power of playing ‘proper’ Futsal.

I didn’t end up playing Futsal for the entirety of my time at Bath due to time constraints with my degree, but as soon as I graduated I went on the hunt for a team to join. I had moved back to the High Wycombe area and was hopeful that there’d be a club nearby. However, unlike football, where even in the women’s game you’d have a fair few clubs to choose from in most areas, finding a Futsal club was like finding a needle in a haystack.

I reached out to a few teams that I knew were playing at the top level (FA National Futsal Series) but the nearest club was over an hour and a half’s drive away, making it an impossibility with a nine-to-five commuting job.

I had almost resigned myself to a life solely of football when I saw a Facebook post from Reading Royals Futsal Club announcing that they were starting a women’s side. I attended one of the first sessions and loved it. Every week, more and more new faces turned up and we steadily grew from a core group of around six to having nearly twenty-five players signed on. Lots of us had played at university or college, but equally there were plenty who just wanted to give the sport a go and I’m so happy to say that most of those who came for one session, stayed. We got lucky when the Hampshire FA started a small women’s Futsal development league, so we entered and topped the table before lockdown.

Although 2020 and its restrictions came as a massive disappointment for the team, we didn’t stop working behind the scenes. The club began the process of applying for us to enter the FA Women’s Super Series – the top level of women’s Futsal in England. We completed all the forms, set out a long development plan and had a virtual interview with the NFS Committee. We ticked all the boxes and were accepted for the season, which was due to start in October 2020. Of course, we were thwarted by another lockdown and new restrictions making it impossible for teams to play indoors. I’m not holding my breath for the season to start anytime soon, and training outdoors has become the norm for most Futsal teams, but I’m unbelievably excited to be playing top tier Futsal in a Reading Royals shirt, whenever that may be.

Futsal has given me so much: confidence, quick feet, fitness…but also a second family. I’ve never been as close with a football team as I am with the Royals Women. Similarly, I feel completely supported by the wider Futsal community. We all love the sport and we all want it to succeed and grow in England. Despite it being a little bit of a headache to find a team, I would recommend Futsal to anybody.

It’s so much more than just a small-sided version of football, which is what most people think it is. It is its own fantastic sport, a way of life and, above all, a family which covers much of the planet. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

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