Jamie Fahey, "Futsal: The Indoor Game That Is Revolutionizing World Soccer" (Melville House, 2022)

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Today we are joined by Jamie Fahey, a Guardian journalist and production editor with more than twenty years’ experience on several national newspapers and six years in regional journalism. He is also the author of Futsal: The Indoor Game that is Revolutionizing World Soccer (Melville House, 2021). In our conversation, we discussed the origins of futsal, the differences and similarities between futsal and soccer, and the future of the five-a-side game.

In Futsal, Fahey blends history, journalism, memoir, coaching guides, and polemic to trace the growth of futsal from its beginnings in 1930s Uruguay and Brazil through to its global present. If futsal first developed in South America, it demonstrated how footballing ideas and practices could migrate back along imperial lines, as Brazilian super stars encouraged the propagation of the game in Europe, Asia and Africa. Brazilians from Pelé to Neymar have played futsal, promoted it in their press clippings, and Brazilians continued to dominate the game. Indeed, many international teams even today are filled with Brazilian players, as evidenced by the tongue in cheek nickname of the Italian national team: the Brazzuri.

Throughout the book, Fahey demonstrates the way that futsal has influenced the 11-a-side game: including tactical developments such as the false nine and the attacking goalkeepers. At the same time, Fahey does not think of futsal solely as a laboratory for soccer, but instead makes a strong argument for the uniqueness of futsal as a sport practice and spectacle with its own value. It is a particularly intense and tactical game that appeals in its own right. He notes the recent growth of the game, with almost sixty million practitioners around the world.

In his memoir-esque chapters, Fahey remarks on his own history as a coach and a player, emerging from the football filled streets of his home city of Liverpool before becoming a guide to his sons’ teams. The rich and textured urban environment of 1970s and 1980s Liverpool provided a site for him to learn foot skills, sangfroid, and tactical nous. If the English past was as a place where children learned to play in an organic way, he bemoans the relative weakness of contemporary English futsal, which suffers from the inattention of the FA, the continued strength of alternative small-sided codes, and the destruction of smaller local soccer spaces.

In the final half of his book, Fahey looks at contemporary futsal practice in a range of countries including: Brazil, Iran, England and the USA. Brazil, Portugal and Spain stand out as places that have well-developed domestic futsal leagues and also are strong competitors internationally. Portuguese and Spanish clubs – in particular Barcelona and Benfica – have benefitted from their use of futsal in their youth programs. France and the United States stand out as places where futsal is developing quickly.

Fahey’s very readable and engaging work will have broad appeal, but especially to people interested in futsal and soccer, sports historians, and sports scholars more generally.

Keith Rathbone is a Senior Lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history. His book, entitled Sport and physical culture in Occupied France: Authoritarianism, agency, and everyday life, (Manchester University Press, 2022) examines physical education and sports in order to better understand civic life under the dual authoritarian systems of the German Occupation and the Vichy Regime. If you have a title to suggest for this podcast, please contact him at keith.rathbone@mq.edu.au and follow him at @keithrathbone on twitter.

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