One of the most illusive and unreliable statistics out there is the number of people who play 5-a-side. So 5-a-side.com naturally wanted to tackle the issue and find out just how many people are playing this smaller version of the beautiful game.
How many people play 5-a-side football in England?
Within the UK, 5-a-side is by far the most popular of a number of games which the English FA term “small-sided football”. According to the FA, this label covers any version of the game played with less than 11 players (and we’re not talking as a result of sending-offs).
Most prominent in the small-sided category are the 5,6 and 7-a-side games as well as Futsal and Beach soccer. This form of football has been growing rapidly in popularity in recent years especially with the development and improvement of artificial pitches and dedicated facilities since the 90s.
According to the English Football Association’s website (as of May 2014):
Small Sided Football is the most popular and fastest growing area of adult football. With over 1.5m adults playing Small Sided Football every week and with 30,000 teams playing in organised and competitive small sided leagues, this format of football has increasingly become an integral part of the football family.
Inspiring stuff. 1.5m People is a vast number, but there is good reason to believe that there are a lot more players out there since:
- The FA’s number is just the number of players playing every week – confusingly, it’s not clear whether this means that a) in any given week there are 1.5m people playing or b) that there are 1.5m committed souls who play every week (uh, that’s quite a subtle difference). Either way, the total number of players each year should be a lot higher.
- The FA’s number is just adults – a number of children are also potentially playing 5-a-side. Perhaps not on a regular basis, but many young players these days are either training or playing on artificial pitches in a small-sided game environment.
It’s hard to put a total annual number on all the players of small sided games, but the FA does again give us a glimmer of hope – in 2005 they published a document Guide to indoor and outdoor areas for small sided football, mini-soccer and futsal which included the following line:
Over 4 million people play small-sided football each year in England of which 1.2 million play on a regular league or cup basis
The FA would be expected to have the best chance of getting this data right – comfortingly the 1.2m number they gave for regular players compares with the more recent 1.5m figure (assuming the increase is for growth in the game).
Do most 5-a-side players play in organised competitions or just casually?
Again, if the FA’s statistics can be trusted then there’s a little extra gem hidden in there. Remember they say that “1.5m adults play every week and there are 30,000 teams playing in leagues” – well, assuming each team has a squad of 8 players, that implies that only 240,000 people (that’s 8 x 30,000) or roughly 16% of total 5-a-side players are playing in these leagues! The vast majority of my own 5-a-side experience has been in competitive leagues but many more play only informally, be it with friends, work colleagues, or as training sessions for their 11-a-side teams. Maybe we’ll do a survey of our own to get to the bottom of this, but I find those results surprising.
How many people play outside of England?
The English FA’s numbers above only includes people playing in England, naturally, but how many people are playing small-sided football beyond these borders?
Well, taking 2010 population estimates (sourced from Office for National Statistics) the UK as a whole was 62.3m people in 2010 whilst England is only 52.2m of that, so there are lots more players out there in the UK; maybe another 290,000 if participation rates are the same across the rest of the UK.
But then expanding further beyond these borders, how many people are playing 5-a-side outside of the UK across the world? It’s impossible to tell – the game is fairly new in the USA, with Goals Soccer Centre having only recently opened its first 5-a-side soccer centre in Los Angeles, with their website still describing ‘five-a-side’ as ‘the new way to play’. Hopefully their crusade brings many, many more people into the cause.
The game is also played in Mexico as ‘quick football’, in Europe as ‘futsal’, in Brazil as ‘Futebol de Salao’, and we’re sure it’s played in many other countries too – want to tell us about any more, get in touch! Ok, so each country has its own take on the size of the goals, number of players, size ball etc, but at its core we’re all playing the same game and we’re interested in the same issues. Here at 5-a-side.com we embrace all types of small sided game across all countries of the world!
Note: unhelpfully the Telegraph, a British Newspaper, has quoted the following: “about 1,143,700 people play “small-sided” football, including five-a-side, once a week in England”. That was in July 2012 and, if you were paying attention, is a bit smaller than the number quoted by the English FA. I’ve gone with the FA’s figure but don’t say I didn’t tell you about this one.