Tim Godfrey Twiss previews the FA People's cup, which starts next weekend, considering the comparative logistics of 5 a side with 11 a side.
The University of Bristol will be hosting 5-a-side competitions as part of the student version of the FA People’s cup. The competition is exclusively for non-BUCS players, so there’s no need to worry about how rusty your skills are. The men’s event is on Saturday 24th February with the women’s the following day on the 25th, both at Coombe Dingle. Get involved!
Almost 35,000 players from across the UK enter the country’s largest 5-a-side tournament
As you may have noticed from the intermissions between games on Match of the Day and Gary Lineker’s big ferrety grin, or from the fact your estranged overly-keen housemate from first year has messaged you out of the blue demanding you join their team called ‘Banterlona FC’: The FA People’s Cup is about to begin. Each year in early February almost 35,000 players from across the UK enter the country’s largest 5-a-side tournament, culminating in the final sides battling it out at Wembley. Although the scale of the FA’s endeavour is significant enough, what is more interesting from my point of view is that the competition is completely free, there are almost no logistical obstacles to stop you from going to play football.
The competition is also open to everyone, male and female, abled and disabled, young and old, skilled or unskilled and there is even a special competition for university students. The FA is clearly making a concerted effort to boost attendance and participation in 5-a-side, in fact, an enormous effort. Although I’d like to believe that a nefarious conglomerate of 5-a-side operators have successfully lobbied the FA with promises of discounted pints after games, I believe that the FA is making a bold statement about the future of domestic grass roots football – mainly that it won’t be played on grass.
In recent years the media have presented English fans with far off places of footballing paradises within Germany, Spain and Brazil where gifted youngsters develop their craft in indoor small-sided games allowing the countries to develop excellent professional players, and therefore a world-class international team. In contrast to the futsal played on the continent or in South America, English youth are forced to run around on a gargantuan pitch and stand in oversized goal frames. In this situation only players who have gone through puberty at the age of 7 - and are 6’2” for some reason - stand out, simply because they are stronger faster and more powerful. This effect is emphasised in the male game, whereas in the female game physical differences are less pronounced and for a shorter amount of time in a player’s development – hence the comparative international success of the Lionesses compared to the Lions.
Likewise, the adult amateur 5-a-side game is the ugly, non-politically correct, uncle of the glamorous futsal of our neighbours. English 5-a-side is as much about which team can more effectively threaten the ref with physical violence as which team possesses more footballing ability. But within the racist team names, the two footed challenges on astro turf, the cardboard for shinpads and the “you’re now £112 in debt, please pay next week” the FA has seen light at the end of the tunnel.
It must be noted that the FA are not running an 11-a-side tournament of this nature, yes there are many leagues around the country but nothing nationwide at grass roots level. The reason for this is obvious to me as I sit in full football kit at my desk as yet another round of intramural is called off due to bad - currently sunny outside - weather: 11-a-side is a f#$@&ng nightmare to organise. There are issues of players, pitches, linesmen, large payments, proper equipment and a host of other problems that halt the actual playing of football. Within the FA Chairman’s England Commission 2014, two of the main goals for the FA were to improve: 'The quality and impact of coaching and coach education especially in grassroots football' and 'The quantity and quality of grassroots facilities, especially all weather pitches'. 11-a-side facilities are expensive and inefficient and the coaching/officiating of them likewise. On one 11-a-side pitch you can fit 6 5-a-side pitches, resulting in an extra 8 players being involved in grass roots football with fewer headaches, not only this but a focus on 5-a-side also brings about a change in footballing philosophy.
The FA People’s Cup may be the beginning of a 5-aside takeover in the UK. 5-a-side as a format for football is more inclusive, cheaper and more skilful than its 11-a-side counterpart and this is why the FA is rapidly promoting it. Whether or not you agree with a shift in the FA’s priorities is down to you, would you swap a Sol Campbell-esque 25 yard long slide tackle through a pitch that has become a swimming pool for quick passing game during which nobody even drops to the ground? Would you swap a 30 yard screamer for a backheel from 5 yards? Would you swap an international team dwarfed in class by economic and cultural neighbours for a competitive one? Maybe not, and maybe the FA has already made its choice. But finally, one last question, please can you join my team: ‘Andy Gray’s Anatomy’ for the FA People’s Cup?
Featured image: Twitter / Liverpool_CFA
Sign up for the competition here.