I have been representing the England National Futsal Team for over five years now and, with two friendlies against Sweden coming up, I would like to give you a small insight into my experience with England.
My debut for the national team came on 28th October 2008 against the Netherlands in a four nation tournament held in Caen, France. It had always been one of my key objectives to play for my country and I never knew whether I would be able achieve it. When I finally got called up I was thrilled. The feeling after finding out was fantastic. I have kept the unwashed shirt I wore for that first cap as a memento.
During the 5 years I have been playing for England there have been some unforgettable moments such as my debut, earning our first competitive victory and training at Spanish side El Pozo Murcia. Of course, there have been difficult times as well including two periods where I was not being selected. During those times I continued to try to demonstrate my quality and fought to earn my way back into the squad.
Playing in international fixtures is a fantastic experience. There is something extra special when two nations compete especially when there is a noisy crowd, whether it is supporting us or against us. A game against France a couple of years ago was one of the best atmospheres I have experienced with around 2000 people packed into a small venue.
With England we receive first class treatment and everything we need to perform is taken care of. The support team, which includes a video analyst and psychologist, provide us with excellent care. Since The FA’s National Football Centre opened, St George’s Park, we have begun to hold training camps there. It is a world class facility and provides the perfect environment for both training and recuperating between sessions.
Another benefit is the opportunity to travel. I have visited many countries all over Europe and further that I would have never otherwise been to. Unfortunately, on away trips our schedule is usually very full and there is not much time to explore. It is often the case of just seeing the inside of a hotel and a sports hall, which are the same the world over. Typically, we arrive the day before the game and train once we get to our destination. Then we depart the morning after our last game. However, if I can, I always try to get out and see something of the place we are in and try some local cuisine.
For those that might be interested a typical match day schedule with England would be something like this:
09:00 Breakfast (Continental style buffet)
10:30-12:00 Light Training Session (Get our sharpness, go through set plays & become familiar with the venue)
13:00 Lunch (Buffet with standard options – I usually eat something like salad, chicken, rice and vegetables)
13:30 Team Meeting (Usually some video clips of the opposition and go through our tactics)
14:00-17.00 Rest (I like to take a short nap & just relax)
17.00 Pre-Match Snack (Sandwich, cereals, fruits, yoghurts)
19.00 Kick Off
The recognition of being an England player was crucial for earning my first professional contract abroad. That first contract was the beginning of my professional futsal career which has covered five different countries. It was difficult when I was outside of England and it often caused problems in my clubs when I needed to return for England training camps and games. However, I always maintained the same desire to play for England as I had before my first cap so I was always very happy to come back. Now I am back in England, with Baku United, it is much easier.
Futsal has come so far in England since 2008, the year the national league started, even if we still have a long way to go. This has been noticeable at the international level as well. The squad used to train just one day a month but now we have training camps of three or four days every couple of months. The attendances at our games have continued to increase and our last two home friendlies were sell outs. The speed of futsal’s development in England is certainly increasing.
We realise that the England team is not just about getting results but also a crucial tool in helping promote the game. Recent visits to our training camps have included SoccerAM, TalkSport and GQ Magazine. Of course, promotion and results go hand in hand and the biggest impact in increasing awareness of futsal in England would be to qualify for a major tournament. The team reached the Main Round Qualifying Stage of the UEFA Futsal Euro for the first time last year and our aim is to do this again and then go the single step further needed to reach the finals of a major competition.
This season we don’t have any qualifiers with the next Euro and World Cup qualifiers not taking place until 2015. This has given time for the coaching staff to formulate a plan to be able to reach the next level and achieve our objectives. Though we don’t have any competitive fixtures until next year, this period is vital as how well we will do in the qualifiers in 2015 will reflect the work we are doing now. Once the qualifiers arrive it will be the time to reap the rewards of our efforts and preparations.
The next step of the plan will take place this week when we face Sweden in two away friendlies. We have never played Sweden before as they have only had a national team for just over a year so they will be a bit of an unknown quantity. A good attendance is expected for both games and the second match on Monday 24th February will be televised on national TV in Sweden. We are all really looking forward to the fixtures.
I hope to continue playing for the England National Team for a long time into the future and add more unforgettable moments. The one I want most is to represent my country in a major tournament. What a historic step for English futsal that would be!