As part of our spotlight month of futsal, we have spoken to individuals from across the game in Greater Manchester. Referee Mike Harris started his refereeing career in football and later moved across to futsal, just over 5 years ago. We spoke to Mike to learn more about his view of the game as an official.
1. How long have you been involved in refereeing?
I originally qualified as a match official back in 2001 when living in Basingstoke, where I spent two seasons refereeing at youth and adult football. I then took a break as I moved to University and worked weekends but returned to refereeing in 2012.
I took the subsequent futsal conversion course in June 2013 and haven't looked back since.
2. Have you refereed football as well as futsal?
Yes, though it’s been quite a few years since I have refereed football. I’m used to refereeing indoors now!
3. What’s the biggest differences in the two games of football and futsal and how does this affect referees?
Aside from the smaller pitch, smaller goals, smaller ball and fewer players, it's very tactical and played at a much faster pace than football; players are moving constantly to find and create space.
From a refereeing perspective, there are many more decisions you have to make at a quicker speed than in football and it can take a little while to adapt to the pace.
4. What benefits do you think players get when playing futsal?
I think players have the ability to really express themselves in futsal, despite not having as much space and time as in football.
Within a couple of touches you can go from defending right in front of your goal, to putting the ball in the back of the net at the other end. This teaches the players the importance of ball retention and how a bad decision can lead to conceding a goal within seconds.
This improvement in decision making and tactical ability can be easily be transferred into football, and I've heard countless stories from local futsal 5s teams going form bottom in their football league to challenging for the title within a season or two, so the success of applying futsal speaks for itself.
5. What are the challenges of refeering futsal?
With many more decisions to make, come many more opportunities to make an incorrect decision, and as futsal is played on a smaller pitch, giving a kick-in the wrong way on the half way line can easily lead to a goal scoring opportunity within a couple of seconds, so concentration levels need to be much higher as there simply isn't any time for the game to settle down.
Each set piece has many more facets when controlling it, take a simple kick in as an example. Deciding which team to award the kick-in to, ensuring the ball is in the correct position, ensuring the player taking it is in the correct position, ensuring you are in the correct position, ensuring the defending team are more than five meters away, and remember to count… and that's just a simple 'ball back into play' scenario!
6. How have you seen futsal grow since you first started in the game?
Within the national structure we have more teams and players than ever. When I started on the national program, there were three leagues which made up the top division; North, South and Midlands.
This evolved into a North and South league with a second division created and today we are in the second season of a national league with teams from Sussex up to Newcastle, with a North and South Division One and North, South and Midlands division two.
Premier League Academies have futsal built into their winter schedules for younger age groups, participating in the annual Premier League Academy Finals in February. BUCS has also seen an explosion of activity, with Varsity futsal games being attended by well over 1,000 people, on occasion.
7. Where do you think futsal will head in the coming decade?
Last year, the FA launched their 2018-2024 Futsal Strategy which sets out to achieve:
•150,000 participants playing regularly
•A defined network of facilities covering all County FA’s
•England Men's team reaching a top twenty ranking (currently 50)
•An England Women's team
If we can achieve all of this within the next five years, then we really can become one of the world's top countries for futsal facilities and participation and beyond that, who knows!
8. Anything else you’d like to add?
Futsal truly is a fantastic game; it's fast paced, skilful, tactical and some may say more entertaining then football. There are on average more than six goals and almost thirty attempts on target per game, so plenty of action and I'd thoroughly recommend attending a local Super League game.
And finally, for anyone looking to get into refereeing futsal, please contact Manchester FA for details around the new futsal referees course. As part of the tutor team, I help deliver the courses locally and mentor those who wish to progress. There are opportunities locally, regionally and nationally across all age groups and open age and I hope to see you at a course soon!