Last year I was lucky enough to be able to visit Lisbon to watch Sporting’s futsal team in action. Coming from the UK, where futsal is still a relatively new sport, trying to get a foothold on the already congested footballing ladder, the chance to see the game more established in Portugal was a rare treat.
Sporting are one of Portugal’s best Futsal teams; last season winning the league and fending off a number of other professional and semi-professional teams, including their great rivals Benfica, in the process.
Added to that, they also went to the semi-finals of the European Cup, and as recently as December 2014 they had 6 players called up to the Portuguese national team. In short, these guys are certainly in the elite level of the game, which made it a fabulous opportunity to chat with them and see what they did.
In this article, I want to share with you a couple of things that struck me about the set up there in Lisbon – and few brief lessons that I think futsal clubs around the world could learn from this impressive club.
Futsal and Football under One Name
Sporting’s current Futsal Arena is some way out of central Lisbon, a long way from Sporting’s main complex, the Estádio José Alvalade. The venue that their Futsal team currently play at is a temporary home, whilst they construct an impressive new futsal facility back at the José Alvalade near to their main football stadium (pictured below)
Their temporary home is really a large gymnasium, capable of hosting basketball events as well. It’s got wooden floor, and bleachers either side, probably able to host a capacity of about 2,000-3,000 people. Here it is before it started filling up:
On the one hand its distance outside central Lisbon makes it a pain to get to, but it makes up for this somewhat in its down to earth charm. It’s a well used gymnasium with a proper wooden floor and gives the vibe of a place that has seen some genuine futsal battles over the years.
It’s a nice venue to be playing Futsal in and on my visit it filled to about ¼ of capacity as Lisbon took on a team by the name of Vitoria dos Olivais in a league game.
There could have been more fans at the game, but the 11-a-side team had a fixture in the north of Portugal and you will find that many of the Futsal supporters also follow the full 11-a-side team, which of course has a knock-on impact on the futsal attendance when the two sports collide.
Even though their numbers today are modest, and it is a game that Lisbon are expected to win, their support is still fervent (bordering on fanatical – at least that’s how it appears to me). Watching the fans mill placidly into the arena, you’d have no idea that they were about to sing like crazy people throughout the whole of the game. Futsal might pull the smaller crowds, but the fans are no less passionate about this than they are about the 11-a-side team.
Sporting – a giant of a club
Sporting is a club similar to Barcelona (another major football club which also has its own futsal club). It is a sports organisation (Sporting club de Portugal is “sporting club of Portugal”) and, rather than just being a football club, it provides sports and recreation across a range of disciplines. It has everything from the famous 11-a-side football team, to running and athletic clubs, all under the banner of one club.
It’s not just a football club. Just like Barcelona’s ‘mes que in club’ motto, Sporting really is more than a club. It’s an ideal, a striving for all people of all ages to engage with sport and its many benefits, whichever discipline they prefer. It’s quite unlike any organisation I’ve ever seen in the UK, and its lofty aims stand to me in contrast at some of the major football clubs that could do so much more, but scrape along the bottom as far as our expectations go of what they could do for their communities.
By the way, the club are trying to move away from people calling it ‘Sporting Lisbon’ as that’s not really the name at all. Instead, impress your Portuguese contacts by simply referring to it as ‘Sporting’.
I ask my host, who is connected with Sporting’s organisation if the vast nature of the club means that the high-revenue sports end up subsidising losses for the lower-revenue sports. “No, all sports make money” is the reply. It’s a way of thinking that really impressed me. Profit isn’t the objective of the organisation, but Sporting are clearly very smart about they way they run the various streams of the club. They have to be, it’s the only way to run a sustainable model for the organisation. So whether it be through sponsorship, charging for lessons, clubs and recreational use, each sport is targeted to be able to fund its self.
Taking the game forward