The pause (rather than end) of an era!

I’m writing this post a few months later than I wanted to, and to a degree it sort of feels redundant to do so now, but that’s a good thing (which I’ll get to later). For the people that have reached out, I want to explain in a bit more detail the reasons that made me step down from the role of Director of Futsal for Cambridge United Football Club and my decision to not be involved in the new Cambridge Futsal Club committee, as well as what my plans for the future are.

I ought to start at the very beginning. Back in 2013, an Italian chap called Ruggero got in touch with me after someone told him via social media that I had moved to Cambridge and was a crazy about Futsal. And so was he, more than most people will realise. In short, somehow Ruggero managed to convince me that we should start a club since there was absolutely nothing in Cambridge, or Cambridgeshire that we could join. And so the adventure began. We started slowly, as Cambridge Futsal Club, mostly working in partnership with Cambridgeshire FA delivering a local league for them and rather than take money for doing it, we would get the last hour of the booking for free so we could “train”.

Fast forward a couple of years and the club began to grow. Bryn Hardwick and Chris Horton, who were parents-made-coaches to kids playing grassroots football in Cambridge and interested in trying out a few Futsal tournaments, got in touch and asked if we could help them set up a team. We helped as much as we could, providing a bit of financial help (not much, but enough that in partnership with another sponsor they could afford a pair of Futsal goals) and they thrived, travelling around and giving local youngsters an opportunity to play the beautiful game.

My personal goal was to take a team into the old Futsal National League, however having been heavily involved for many years at Bath university I knew it wouldn’t be an easy task. Venue hire for training and games would rack up to thousands and we had no financial sponsors. When one potential sponsor came up, we took the opportunity and made the application for the 2nd Midlands division. Unfortunately, that sponsor withdrew their support a few weeks before we were due to interview at Wembley and out of desperation we tried to tell our story to the local press.

The timing of that action couldn’t be better. Cambridge United Football Club were in the final planning stages of having a Futsal BTEC scholarship program and after a few meetings we decided to merge forces: we would provide the playing and coaching staff, they would eventually provide the youth players to come through the ranks and quite importantly at the time they would pay the bills. An important part here: most EFL clubs had a Futsal scholarship at some point (which meant they would get paid by an education institution for providing players) but very few ever provided a pathway for those players/students after their studies. Cambridge United did the right thing and provided that. Yes they would still make a profit (rightly so) but they would also do right by their community and local sport. At that time, you could’ve called this action visionary.

The relationship between us and the football club was never easy, but my job was to be the person that made it work. And ultimately, I felt responsible for the whole Futsal side of things despite the number of people who helped (and perhaps were willing to help but I never let them…) because I would be the one reporting back to the football club with the good, the bad and the ugly. And blimey, there was a lot of good if I may say so myself. But there was also a lot of “paperwork” which I can’t say was the most thrilling job…

In summary, over the last 5 years Futsal has won a 2nd division title, promotion to the Superleague, a 3rd place finish at the highest standard in the country and last year reached the final of The FA Cup. That will never be taken from us.

Rolling back to December last year, Cambridge United communicated to me that the financial support the club had been providing for the last few years (which had already been cut by 50% before) would not continue past the current season (just to clarify: this was December 2019 and therefore not COVID-19 related). This was a huge blow for us, and personally it made me take the decision to step down. It was time to hand over the responsibility to other people, rather than letting it rest just on my own hands. And hopefully, allow me to use those two hands to actually focus on the game that I love, which is the only thing I’ve wanted to do.

I take pride in what we’ve achieved, just like I mentioned above, but I felt that now it was time to be a bit selfish for once. Or to put it a better way, it was time to inject some different energy to the new club - new people will bring new ideas and innovation, and hopefully they can take those paperwork jobs and come up with better ways to do them. It’s hard to let go of something you dedicated so much of your time for. Despite having plenty of people around that would basically take care of all aspects of all match day jobs (and trust me there are quite a few of them) I still ended up doing most of the admin outside of that. And because I wanted to be efficient on those jobs, I mostly had to take decisions with the help of only 1 or 2 people (in this case Ruggero on the admin side or Luis on the technical side), which can be a dangerous position to be in - I fully accept the responsibility for the bad decisions I took over the last 5 years. Eventually, I felt that I reached my limit and all those jobs had to be shared or I would burn out. In truth, I think I did burn out a few times which you could see in how it affected my own game: until the whistle went I would be incapable of switching off from thinking about budgets, bookings, you name it.

Right now, I’m glad I’ve taken that decision. The people that have always been around (with a few additions) have come together and restarted Cambridge Futsal Club. This would mean that instead of relying on just one person, the club has an experienced committee who have been around the game for many years. They have started at full speed, even in the current difficult circumstances, and already been successful in the application for the National Futsal Series (which is an extensive, and rightly so, application that I personally wouldn’t have been able to complete) so you can tell how serious they are about Futsal in Cambridgeshire. There’s an established academy which started last year by another parent turned coach (Colin Baker) that will now gain an injection of dedicated Futsal knowledge for the benefit of youth players in the county (and again provide a full pathway to those young players). My thanks goes to all of them for taking that on, and my apologies for being grumpy far too often also goes to them - rest assured all I’ve wanted was to see the squad/club flourish and to give everyone an opportunity to play the beautiful game at the highest standard possible.

There are people that I must call out individually for all they have done for me over the years (as well as the club). Most of the above, if not all, wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t personally reached out to me countless number of times to offer their support or help. Firstly, Ruggero Ferretti for starting it all and take me along the journey. Secondly, Luis Mendonça our head coach who the same day he moved to Cambridge came to a training session and the rest is history. Thirdly, David Charters and Penny Morris: your support for the club and for myself is just incredible and I will be forever thankful for all you’ve done for me. Lastly, the parents: Bryn, Paul, Chris and Andy; the future is bright with you at the helm and your “kids” playing.

That brings me to the title of this post. Rather than calling it the end of an era, I thought I’d call it the pause of an era. And in truth, it’s not even a pause because the show does go on. But I hope it’s only a personal pause on my involvement off the court - once my playing days are over I couldn’t think of a better way to give back to the club and the game than being involved from the outside - as long as I’m allowed! It’s now time to focus on the court for me and that is only possible if we have as much support (financially in particular) from the local community to enable the committee to give me and everyone else the opportunity to carry on playing Futsal in Cambridgeshire.

See you on the court…

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