Futsal ace Liam Palfreeman charts his rise from college in Oxford to playing in Rome

As England's Futsal team preprare to play Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the Home Nations Tournament, Liam Palfreeman explains his love for the game and his journey to becoming a professional Futsal player with stints in Spain and Italy under his belt.

Thursday 28 Nov 2019
Liam Palfreeman has been part of Michael Skubala's Futsal Lions for the last three seasons now

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to go and play Futsal abroad as a career.

It sounds funny now, but I used to be scared to travel into London from my home in Oxford, so to then go and live in another country and look after myself, it was a bit daunting at first but I’ve loved every minute of it.

Home Nations Tournament
  • England v Scotland - 8pm, Friday 29 November
  • England v Northern Ireland - 4pm, Saturday 30 November
  • England v Wales - 4pm, Sunday 1 December
  • All games at St. George's Park
  • Live on BBC

I first got into Futsal when I was at college, studying at Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, and my tutor there ran a National Futsal League side. He asked me to come along and play one weekend as he was short of players.

So I thought ‘why not go and try something new?’ and my first game saw us travel to Loughborough, where current England coach Michael Skubala was actually the manager at the time. It didn't go well, as we got beat quite heavily, it was about 13-2 in the end I think.

What was strange is that I came away from the game having quite enjoyed it, which is odd as I hate losing. But there was something about Futsal which really drew me in and since then, I just became more passionate, dedicated and decided to pursue that rather than football.

I’d grown up playing football and, like everyone else I wanted to be a footballer, but when I got to 17 and first discovered Futsal I just felt that I could get somewhere in this game.

At that stage, I would say I was a half decent footballer. I had a good pass and a good touch but I still had to learn more of the Futsal techniques and tactics.

In action for Baku United during 2015

I wouldn’t say that I started to really progress until I was about 18 and I went to play for Baku United in London, who were a professional team at the time.

I was training and playing every week with some of the best players in the world and that was when I saw a rapid growth in my game. It was just different and when I had the chance to move abroad, it was something I felt I had to do.

The team I joined was Città di Falconara in Italy and the first priority was from a development point of view, as I was only 19 and I felt like the move would do that, and it did as I got my first call-up for England that season.

When I went to Spain with UA Ceutí FS the following year, it was different because I moved in the winter market so that was difficult. I joined one of the best teams in the league, halfway through a season, and you’ve got to try and get up to speed quickly and learn their way of playing.

That was difficult and a different challenge, but I found my style was similar to the Spanish players and we did well by winning the league and getting promoted.

Now I’m back in Italy with ASD Olimpus Roma, playing in a higher league than I was in Spain, so every year has been a progression which is great for me.

I’m really enjoying it, I’m based 20 minutes from the centre of Rome, so it’s not a bad place to live. It’s funny, because a lot of my friends and family have suddenly taken an interest in when and where I’m playing!

It’s good to see a few of the other England boys going abroad and playing Futsal in other countries too, and I hope more of them want to go and do it.

It’s a great experience and while it’s hard, it’s also very rewarding as well, to say you’ve gone and played in another country. Sometimes I have to pinch myself, after what I’ve done so early in my career.

I’ve always said that I’ll help any English player if they wanted to go abroad, because the more players who go abroad, it’s only going to help our national team.

I’m back with the England squad this month too, as we prepare for the Home Nations Tournament at St. George’s Park.

Putting in a tackle against Poland at St. George's Park

It’s a good challenge, they’re all going to be tough games as there’s that local pride at stake and we’re looking forward to it and trying to win the title for the third year running.

This is my fourth year with the national team and I’ve been a part of the three previous Home Nation Tournaments so far. The first one in Wales wasn’t so good as we didn’t win that one, but that gave us the reality check that we needed to improve as players and a team.

We went to Edinburgh in Scotland in 2017 and our performances were much better so we set the level and then last year in Belfast, it was good for a different reason as we won the tournament but I wouldn’t say we played our best.

For me, that shows good mentality of winning and since then, we’ve progressed and moved on and hopefully this weekend we can put on some really good performances and get the results.

I think it’s great that Futsal is now growing more and more as a sport in England. I’ve started to see a lot more academies around in the last few years and it’s good to see because they’re the future of the sport.

The sooner kids start playing, by the time they get to 16 or 17 they could have ten years of experience of playing already. They’ll be a different kind of player and it’s only going to benefit Futsal in England and the national team.

So I hope they start playing at an earlier age because it can only benefit them in Futsal, and also football, if they end up wanting to pursue playing football.

Tickets are available for each day, priced at £8 for adults and £4 for concessions, which guarantees two games of international Futsal and the exhibition games on the Friday and Saturday.

You can also watch the games live on the BBC and via the England YouTube channel.

By Liam Palfreeman England Futsal player at St. George's Park