Over the last 10 years, futsal in this country has improved massively. Clubs have improved, the quality has improved, and the national team has also improved.
But this season, for the first time, the league hasn’t improved. Helvecia pretty much won it in November and now all there is to play for is relegation. Fortunately, the FA has recognised this and is set to restructure everything this coming Friday.
There are plenty of rumours flying about. I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen, but as a player I would like to see changes in a number of areas.
First of all, the league itself. I was a massive advocate of having one national Super League. I was also a massive advocate of getting rid of the play-offs and just having one winner. In the 2016/17 season with Baku, when the play-offs were still running, we were able to pretty much cruise through the season until March, having one training session a week and taking matches lightly in the knowledge that we only needed to finish in the top four of the South to make the play-offs. That season we reached the play-off final, and had I not missed a sitter in the last few minutes we could well have taken Helvecia to extra time – and maybe even won the league. That’s not right. You shouldn’t be able to cruise until March and still be crowned champion.
The alternative, though, is what we’re currently seeing. As far as I’m now concerned, it’s better to potentially have a less deserving winner and keep an element of competitiveness.
Having one national Super League is also a massive commitment for players – especially when the vast majority are amateur. Leaving your house at 6am for an away trip to Newcastle and getting home at 11pm, then getting up for work the next day, isn’t easy. That’s just one reason why the quality of the top league has gone down since being made national (and as a player for the league’s bottom team, I’ve got to hold my hands up!).
Of the teams currently playing in Division One, at least five could easily compete in the Super League. Whether this is because their players don’t fancy the travelling, I don’t know, but I would be keen to see the league split into North and South regions once again. One option could then be for the top four teams in each league to form their own mini league for the final round of fixtures, playing against each other to determine who wins overall.
There has been a lot of talk about central venues. I’m not necessarily against central venues, but I don’t want to be visiting the same place every single week to play a game. One of the best things about the league in its current format is playing against teams like Salisbury and York who provide a decent matchday experience with dedicated fans.
I’d like to see the league designating community hubs rather than one central venue. There could then be one set of showpiece games each weekend. Say the FA booked York’s hall for the entire day, then played games at 12pm, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm featuring local clubs such as York, Bolton and Manchester Dev, plus women’s teams, so that the entire futsal community is represented. The next weekend the showpiece could take place at the Copperbox. At each showpiece weekend, there’ll be a film crew to stream games through the FA’s social media pages. At the moment, regularity is a big issue. Clubs can go weeks without playing at home and kick-off times often vary, making it hard to build connection with fans. Having such a set-up would ensure that every weekend fans all over the world can log onto social media and know that they can watch a top league futsal match at the same time.
Attracting fans through social media will therefore fall on the FA, while attracting fans through community work will continue to be the clubs’ responsibility. The loss of The Daily Futsal is one of the biggest steps backwards futsal has taken in this country. To move forward once more, the FA has to embrace the power of social media and its ability to bring new fans to the sport.
The six English players rule, along with proper youth coaching, has helped to develop the most promising young generation of futsal players this country has seen. It’s also seen some clubs stockpile English talent, making it harder for others to recruit players.
Clubs should be incentivised to play English players. After all, the role of the league should be to develop players for the national team. However, I’m not sure clubs should be made to play more than six English players in a matchday squad. Instead, the FA could incentivise clubs to include more English players by offering free coaching courses or allocating funding to those who collaborate. To further increase development opportunities for young English players, the FA could abolish the transfer deadline for English players under the age of 23. As clubs inevitably suffer injuries and withdrawals toward the end of each season, opportunities will come up for those who show potential.
Finally, I’d like to see the FA transform the FA Cup. There should be more opportunities for clubs outside the system – and for lower league clubs – to progress to play Super League teams. We shouldn’t start in the Last 16, with just four teams from outside the Super League battling to become champions.
Whatever happens on Friday, the fact that the FA is willing to shake things up is a big positive. Like everyone else, I’m intrigued to see what is going to happen.