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Futsal in the community

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One thing that has become evident during my time in Rio de Janeiro so far is football is everything over here.

On Thursday night I was at a futsal project near Morros dos Macacos (one of Rio’s low income communities) run by one of the Methodist churches in the area Metodista da Vila Isabel.

I asked one of the coaches how popular this project is in the community. His answer was not in the least bit surprising.

“Football here is like a religion, the kids’ live for football they love playing the game.”

As the kids arrived you could tell they were itching to get onto the futsal court and start playing.

The project runs twice a week on a Tuesday and Thursday and the kids get a dinner afterwards before they make their way back home. For some of the kids, one of the youth workers says, these are probably the best dinners they will get all week.

futsal2The ages ranged from around eight to 13-years-old and I will be blunt, the football talent was pretty incredible.

Futsal relies on quick passing, creative thinking, dribbling and technique.

As I watched, one small lad drifted past one player, crossed the ball back to his team mate who volleyed it in from outside the area into the top right hand corner. Easy.

I looked over to the coach who seemed reluctant to give too much praise for this goal but he caught my eye and smiled. He knew it was a sublime hit.

It didn’t surprise me to hear scouts from some of Rio’s local clubs are often at the project looking out for any potential young stars.

Football is an escape for these young lads, for a couple of hours they can forget about the harsh reality of their neighbourhood and concentrate on the beautiful game.

To give you an example of the life they face, one of the kids who goes to the project was shot in the head two months ago. Caught in the middle of gun fight. Miraculously he did not die, but will face life changing injuries.

Another kid no longer has a mother as she has been sent to prison for murder.

It put things in perspective, as have many of the projects I have visited out here.

futsal3Once the football had finished we settled down for some food. It also provided some time for the kids to chat to us (with the help of a translator) and ask us questions. There were plenty. All of them about football.

Do we play futsal in England? What is the English style like? Are you trying to play more like us? What team do you support? And so on.

Once dinner was over we had a special presentation. We had brought some Crystal Palace football shirts and shorts over with us to give to the kids.

As a massive Palace fan I was hoping I was giving a shirt to the next Ronaldinho or Neymar or Ronaldo.

But as a massive football fan, it was great to see their reactions. They all said thank you, shook our hands and gave us a hug before putting on the shirts or shorts and then running off home. All of them with big grins on their faces.

If there are times when I am ever disillusioned with football whether it is players acting like complete idiots or the ridiculous amount of the money in the game, I will look back to projects like this one, which for me captured the true essence of football.

Hopefully I will get the chance to visit again. 

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