By Victor Bennett, Film & TV Subeditor
An inside version of football, a professionalised five-a-side or a game which is only played in the most deprived areas of the world? What is futsal and why should students be interested?
I talked to Jonathan Tyrell, co-founder of Futsoul 360, Futsal 360 and head coach of UoB Futsal, Max Mulliri, Vice-President of UoB Futsal, and Elliot Duffau, President of UoB Futsal, in a bid to answer these questions and debunk our understanding of this poorly understood sport.
Futsal is a game played on an indoor court where two teams of five players, using their feet, win by scoring more goals than the other. A game which, in that respect, seems almost identical to five-a-side or ‘a smaller version of football.’ For Duffau, however, ‘it became quite apparent that this is a completely different sport’ in so far as ‘the tactics, the way you play, or even the way you control the ball’ teaches you to ‘unlearn everything you have learned about football.’
Born out of South America in the 1930s, it would be foolish to associate futsal with the over-the-top flair and outlandish skill moves that players from that region are so commonly associated with. Mulliri, rather, describes the game with mathematical precision as to the specific movements that each player is tasked with, placing a huge emphasis on both the importance of patience in build-up play and having an awareness of your teammate's position.
Futsal is widely recognised as fundamental to the development of future football stars. Three of the greatest football players, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pelé have openly spoken about how futsal has given them the necessary transferable skills to distinguish themselves from the rest.
It is very surprising, therefore, that, as of 2020, the Football Association (FA) planned to slash the National Futsal Budget by £75m, citing the lack of success the England national football team has had at major football tournaments (The Guardian, 2020). Resources were thought better directed away from futsal, and towards football; this is a decision which chooses to ignore the words of the world's best football stars and England head coach Gareth Southgate.
Nevertheless, individuals such as Jonathan Tyrell have taken it upon themselves to establish the necessary infrastructure that the FA has so stubbornly neglected. Tyrell’s story with the sport is both a familiar one and outstanding in execution. Similar to Mulliri, Duffau and most of UoB Futsal, his interest grew out of small-sided football, where he was recommended by a team-mate to go on tour with Christian charity, Ambassadors in Sport, to play Futsal in Spanish prisons. ‘As soon as I played it, I thought this is amazing!,’ leading him to quickly join the University of Sheffield futsal team and sign up for the National Futsal League.
Tyrell’s love for the game extends beyond the physical boundaries of the court. He believes futsal to be the solution to a range of social issues within the city. Alongside co-founders Ewan Minter and Sam Andrews, Tyrell has set up ‘Futsoul 360’, a charity established in Spring 2021 which hopes ‘to bring a diverse range of communities together through futsal […] to ensure that every young person in Bristol can play their part in shaping its future.’ (Futsoul 360).
Emulating the effect Futsal has had as the heart of the community in nations such as Brazil, Uruguay, Spain and Portugal, Tyrell has begun to connect the diverse range of voices Bristol offers. The Futsal 360 academy boats 250 kids, connecting Bristol’s most deprived and most privileged areas together through a shared passion for the sport. ‘The whole point’, Tyrell adds, was ‘to connect people in Bristol that would otherwise never connect.’
Tyrell's prestige as an ambassador for the sport in Bristol soon led him to take up the challenge of spearheading UoB Futsal, for free. Thanks to his guidance and connections, UoB Futsal managed to reach the semi-finals of the National BUCS league and, as a result, qualify for the Split 2023 EUSA Futsal tournament.
UoB Futsal represented the United Kingdom in this international tournament, alongside 16 other countries and 700 participants. An opportunity that few students get to experience, Mulliri felt honoured to represent his country, ‘I felt like an Olympic athlete’, adding ‘How many times do you get the opportunity to represent your country.’ Similarly, Duffau explained, ‘The fact that we had an opening ceremony […] where the Croatian minister of sport and Croatian minister of tourism gave speeches […] made me realise the gravity of the occasion.’
But the story of UoB Futsal and Bristol Futsal is just beginning. Armed with a ten-year plan, coach Jonathan Tyrell and President and Vice-President of UoB Futsal plan to both compete more ferociously on the court and inspire the next generation of Bristol’s future futsal stars off it.
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