The name Oxford Lions is probably unfamiliar to you. That's no surprise, this club is a baby both in terms of its size and age. However, in just over a year's existence they have risen to become one of the leading futsal clubs in the country. Perhaps the whirlwind success of the Lions is something we at OUFC should look to for inspiration.
The Oxford Lions have just completed their debut season in the FA National Futsal Leagues and they have done it in style, winning the Midlands Division, in the process breaking the record for the most goals scored in a season (127) and the record for most goals scored in a match (their 26-1 demolition of Team Newbury), and qualifying for the Grand Finals with ease. There they lost out in the championship-deciding match to Helvécia FC, who have dominated the British futsal scene, winning the National Futsal League every year since the league's inception in 2008. To be officially recognised as the second-best club in the country after being in existence for just a year is quite an impressive feat, but it is in some ways a shame that Oxford is represented at the highest level of a football competition by a team other than Oxford United.
|Lions in action against Manchester|
The benefits to the Lions are obvious, as the large 'Sponsors Required' notice on their official website testifies. For a young and relatively unknown club, attracting vital sponsors must be a thankless task and common sense suggests that Oxford United Futsal Club would be a more attractive prospect for potential sponsors than Oxford Lions. With the additional sponsorship money and increased profile that would come with the affiliation, the Lions could improve their facilities and continue to improve as a club.
For United the benefits may appear to be less obvious but are in fact manifold. First and foremost is the opportunity to have the club represented at the highest levels of futsal in this country. Typically, we in Britain have lagged behind the rest of the world when it comes to futsal. On the continent many countries already have established professional futsal leagues but in England it remains a fledgling amateur game, the English national futsal team has an abysmal record (ranked 90th in the world, behind Bahrain, Fiji, Zambia etc) and Helvécia have never advanced beyond the preliminary group stage of the UEFA Futsal Cup. However, with the FA's increased interest in the game and a growing awareness of the sport in this country that may all be about to change, and Oxford could be at the forefront of the sport.
More valuable for United, though, is futsal's well-documented record of aiding the development of highly talented footballers. We've often heard it said by the management of the football club that we aim to play football 'the right way' (i.e. we want to be a passing team). If the club wants to effectively adopt this philosophy to the game it must do so at all levels, from the earliest years of the CoE, right up to the first team. Futsal could be the ideal vehicle to ahieve this.
“The nature of the game places a large emphasis on technical skill and ability in situations of high pressure, and is subsequently an excellent breeding ground for football competencies that can be translated into the 11-a-side format of the game.” The FA
Oxford's youth system is still recovering from the devastation of the Kassam years and the period in non-league that followed it. It hasn't produced any decent players in years, and though we're all desperate to see Tyrone Marsh and Max Crocombe succeed now that they've been offered senior contracts, it still seems clear that our youth system is not yet capable of producing talented youngsters anywhere near as regularly as it once did. It is likely to be further hamstrung by the introduction of the new EPPP rules at the start of next season. Already we have witnessed the best of Oxfordshire talent drained away to fill the youth teams of Reading, Southampton, MK Dons etc and the introduction of the EPPP will make it easier for other clubs to come and poach our talent as well. Realistically, it is likely that when the club's youth system is audited (or rather when the results of the audits are released) we will be granted, at best, Category Three status, which will make it all the more difficult to compete with those richer clubs even for kids living in the shadow of the Kassam. Engagement with one of the country's leading futsal clubs would be a handy way to circumvent some of the obvious problems currently faced by the club's youth development team.
|Receiving the Midlands Division Trophy |
By linking up with the Oxford Lions, we could really make the most of the limited resources available to us by taking those players discarded from other clubs, making them play more small-sided football than anywhere else in the country and, as a result, developing players who are more technically comfortable on the ball. They could then move up into the first team, enabling us to play good passing football with a team of young, homegrown players, as well as maintaining Oxford's place at the top end of national futsal. Surely a win-win situation for us all.