With a lack of futsal facilities hindering progress of young talent, is it a surprise England are in the rest of the world’s shadow? JAMES ROBERTS investigates.

ENGLAND’S national football team will always be playing catch-up to other major nations unless extensive changes are made in their approach to futsal.

That is the view of a key figure at Oxford City Lions, who have won domestic and international trophies – but their ‘home’ is Faringdon Leisure Centre, which is not a specialist venue for the sport.

Last December, the club’s under 14s won a prestigious tournament in Spain, with many of the group tipped to eventually represent England.

But the competition highlighted the contrasting resources between Oxford and the similar-sized St Cugat – the event’s hosts – which is home to six futsal venues alone.

Although the sport has a higher profile on the continent, the lack of provision in Oxfordshire is hugely frustrating for Lions secretary Mark Hinnells.

“It’s difficult to play at the highest level if you’re training in the wrong sized goals,” he said.

“When it’s hard to get a facility, it’s harder to build multiple age groups and a club.”

He added: “A lot of our sports hall facilities don’t cater for viewing – in St Cugat there were seats for between four and eight hundred people at any game.”

The Lions opened a venue at the Oxford City Indoor Arena in Berinsfield in 2015, a year before their adult side claimed the national league and cup double.

But expensive running costs forced the move to Faringdon last year.

Hinnells believes a disparity in futsal provision across the country is harming its long-term growth.

He said: “The Football Association is still very much a devolved organisation.

“It’s still very varied across the country over which counties see futsal as a priority.”

However, Oxfordshire FA Football Development manager Michael Thurlow insists the organisation is committed to growing the sport.

He said: “We’re trying to work with clubs and leagues to raise awareness of futsal.”

Last September the FA launched a nationwide £300,000 futsal fund, enabling associations, leagues and schools to apply for a ‘futsal starter pack’.

Oxfordshire FA would not reveal the number of applications or if any were successful and declined to comment on the current state of futsal facilities in the county, but Thurlow added: “If Oxford City Lions can inspire local people to get into the game it will do wonders. We are always keen to support them.”

Hinnells wants sports halls expanded to five badminton courts to incorporate futsal.

Sport England launched new guidance for larger multi-sport venues in 2012, although the organisation is not directly involved in futsal facilities in Oxfordshire.

A spokesperson, said: “Sport England believe that multi-sports halls are of value because they offer variety and flexibility.

“The design of multi-sports halls requires careful consideration to ensure that there is clarity of line markings, use of the right surface and lighting for the priority sports.”

Hinnells’ biggest challenge is ensuring futsal remains part of this discussion as he continues to strive for the Lions’ success to be rewarded.

He said: “I’m really passionate about the sport, it’s so intense and so skilful compared to football.

“I’m confident we’ve got a really good story to tell.”



  • JOY: Liam Palfreeman celebrates winning the under 19 national title with Oxford Futsal Club in 2014

OXFORD’S Liam Palfreeman has first-hand experience of the stark contrast between English futsal and its European rivals.

The England international spent the 2016/17 campaign at Italian side Citta di Falconara, in between spells at National Super League clubs Oxford City Lions and current team London Helvécia.

But that single season overseas made its mark on the 22-year-old.

“Italy was an incredible life experience,” he said.

“I was playing for a fourth division team, but their home venue was a 3,000-seater stadium.

“They have multi-use venues for futsal, volleyball and handball.

“There weren’t 1,000 lines on the pitch like in some leisure centres in England.”

Palfreeman’s year in Italy confirmed to him that futsal in this country is lagging behind.

He said: “To develop as a player, I would go abroad.

“They train every day, but here we train twice a week and play on a Sunday.”

Palfreeman has benefited from foreign influence at home too, and believes his time spent working under Spanish coach Enrique Guillen at Oxford City Lions was key to his development.

The duo helped the club achieve an historic double in 2015/16, winning the FA National Futsal League and FA Futsal Cup.

This came just five years after Palfreeman tried the sport for the first time aged 16 at City of Oxford College – a path he is keen for others to tread.

He said: “It’s important to get it into schools as participation will increase if people know what it is.

“England needs to start building its own venues – at the moment the only place that’s good enough is the Copper Box in London.”

A British record attendance of 1,400 watched England’s double header at home to Sweden in February 2015, showing the demand for the sport.

But as Palfreeman knows better than anyone, English futsal has a long way to go.



  • TECHNIQUE: Felipe Barcelos in action for Oxford City Lions in 2015

DIDCOT Town striker Felipe Barcelos believes a football education built around futsal helped him adapt to the English game.

The Brazilian played the sport from an early age and had never participated in an 11-a-side match when he moved to Oxfordshire from South America aged 14 in 2006.

Barcelos joined Oxford City’s academy soon after arriving in this country, and sees futsal as beneficial to a footballers’ progression.

He said: “In Brazil, we believe coming from a futsal background can help players develop – how much time you have to think, your spatial awareness and with scoring goals.

“If you’re good enough to score in a small goal with less time, you’re going to be better in a bigger goal.”

Brazil’s approach to youth football is markedly different to Britain’s, prioritising technical ability in small-sided games.

The 26-year-old said: “Futsal is how we get to know football – it starts when you are really young.

“It’s very difficult to find a football team at that age, it’s all six or seven-a-side.

“You won’t get to 11-a-side until you’re quite old.”

Barcelos helped Oxford City Lions reach the FA National Futsal League semi-finals in 2014/15, but admits the facilities in his home country are far superior.

He said: “In Brazil you have an indoor pitch for all the biggest indoor games.

“In each city you have a stadium, it’s one of the best atmospheres I’ve played in.”

Nevertheless, Barcelos is confident futsal has the potential to grow in Oxfordshire and beyond.

He said: “Scouts at under 13 and under 14 games in the future will find a lot of good players and maybe even the next Neymar or Ronaldinho.

“If the FA believe in futsal, there’s no reason why it can’t be one of the biggest sports in England.”