England may be leading the way in terms of its successful vaccination programme, but it is falling well behind in terms of its support for the future of futsal.
Team Sunderland coach Tony Loftus and players Matty Ellis and Patrick Crombie have not been able to play the sport they love due to covid, but say the bigger picture in this country is much worse… while Germany and Spain pump money through, England has left futsal behind.
Futsal has been massively affected at all levels due to its nature as an indoor sport. The league was cut short in March last year in the first lockdown.
Games have not resumed since and training as a team has been minimal.
Loftus said: “It was really disappointing not just for myself but also for the Futsal squads overall.
“The hard work and commitment in which each individual had given from the very beginning was cut short.
“This was my first season in charge of Futsal overall, so we had a challenge at the very beginning of the season in terms of new style of play and recruitment of new players, both for our BUCS & NFS squads.
“We were lucky to have a great recruitment drive by myself and the committee at the fresher’s fair to give us this kick start into the season.”
Loftus also discussed the lack of support that was given to the sport by the FA. He said: “Futsal has taken a massive impact across the country this being from Grassroots right up to the England International team.
“The FA decided to cut all funding for elite teams due to COVID and also said money for grassroots futsal would be significantly reduced from this season onwards.
“This is a massive blow, especially to gain the buy in of players and to get the players to continue the hard work and commitment when they know there is effectively no pathway for them to go further to.
“If we look at the likes of Wolves defender Max Kilman prior to this he has also played for the English futsal team and claims futsal gained him the skills and abilities to get to where he is now.”
Other countries have provided major support for the sport.
Germany have plans for a Futsal Bundesliga and Spain recently announced €8m funding to help the sport progress.
“If we look at other countries such as Spain & Brazil, they are amazing in both Football and Futsal so I cannot understand the stance the FA have taken.
“Of course, COVID has had an impact on funds for everyone but not enough to scrap a full sport and funding when other countries are still supporting it.”
Sport also has a positive impact on mental health.
“A lot of players, coaches and spectators use sport as a support mechanism to help them deal with mental health.
“No matter what the duration is, this being 30 mins or 90 mins people always have a smile on their face and forget about the struggles they are facing.
“Due to COVID taking this away we have seen a massive spike in mental health.
“Our team are always willing to support one another with this and we have seen them come even closer and grow a special family bond during this difficult time.
“With people coming out of their normal routines, this being with training and matches and specific days people don’t know how to fill this time, so with this people just lock themselves away and especially with no socialising this has hit people very hard myself included.
“We can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and with the return we are starting to get back into this routine and it’s bringing the positives and personalities back out in people which is excellent.”
With the easing of lockdown on April 12, training was able to return, much to the delight of the squad.
Crombie said: “It’s been great, Covid has been especially hard on indoor sports and I haven’t had a proper game of Futsal since February last year.
“It’s been great seeing the lads from the team again and getting some normality after being in lockdown for what feels like a few years at this point.
“With the vaccine being rolled out this return to training feels like the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Ellis explained the difficulties of having to train from home: “Staying fit during lockdown has been one of the biggest struggles I’ve had.
“At the start I was keeping on top of it but with knowing I can’t do much my motivation quickly fell and so it always felt like a really big challenge to do anything.
“The main way I kept fit was just going for runs around my local park, finding some home workouts to do but with such limited space that I had, the home workouts were sometimes a struggle.
“Lockdown has had such a huge impact on everyone’s motivation and just willingness to do things, so there has been a huge challenge with everything going on.
“Now that lockdown is lifting again, I’m sure it’ll be so much easier to find the motivation to get back and fitter than ever.”
Loftus said: “A few videos were shared on specific topics and training programs to aim at keeping our training plans in place for a quick return but the longer this went on the more it become difficult.
“With this we struggled to get a massive buy in by players as it just not the same, so with this we looked at alternative ways to keep the team interacted and also to showcase our teams.
“We put together a few challenges two of them being the Fridge challenge & toilet roll challenge.
“We also got involved in a Fifa20 Pro clubs charity tournament against other universities hosted by Bedford.
Crombie said: “The first lockdown in march was the hardest as we had no idea at that point how long it would be for and at the time with all sports leagues getting voided it killed my motivation.
“Tony put a few fitness sessions on Zoom and we had a few S+C [strength and conditioning] sessions at city space.
“once I got used to a routine with working out at home and bought some of my own equipment, I was able to keep up my fitness pretty well.
“In the latest lockdown I hired a personal trainer who is a friend of mine and I spent the period January to march doing regular PT sessions which was excellent for my fitness and strength and without any matches during that time I have ended up leaving this lockdown in the best shape I have ever been in.”
As well as the playing side, the social side is also an important factor in university sport participation.
“The social side is a huge part of Futsal”, Ellis said.
“Being able to have a laugh and see the lads has been such a miss.
“We’re such a tight group of mates and so it does have an impact not being able to see them go out and just enjoy ourselves.
“it what makes playing Futsal so great too, we’re all good mates and so not seeing anyone at all has been a huge miss.
Crombie said: “It is a huge miss. I was part of the Northumbria Futsal squad last season but I know it’s the same with the Sunderland lads.
“the team nights out are an important part of squad development and it creates a great camaraderie between the lads.
“the Wednesdays and Sunday nights out are always a great night especially after a win and I don’t think sport at uni would be the same without it.
“I am hoping when we do get back playing restrictions will be eased in the bars so we can all go for a drink after games hopefully with the 3 points.”
Sunderland hosted a round robin of NFS fixtures in November 2019, an important day for advertising the sport in the area.
Loftus outlined the importance of these days: “This is a massive miss not only for Futsal but also the university.
“This was the first season that the university entered into the NFS. With this being a new league, matches were played at central venues within the season and each club would host twice within the season with all fixtures being played that day.
“This brings teams from around the country with different levels of qualities.
“We had already hosted our first event and were planning on how we could make this better and broadcast our next event in which was due to be hosted in April.
“To add this was to be played against a local rival team Washington Pumas, so we were looking at ways to bring the local area in to view this and also grow the knowledge of the sport in the North East.
“We have seen the plans for next season and are looking to go back to the format of Home and Away fixtures, so this in turn will allow us to get our squad back out on the court and put Sunderland Futsal on the map.
“The only thing we can say is watch this space!”