Show Your Colours: Green and Gold or Pink and Blue. Nottingham Varsity 2019. by Carl Wilkinson
Six hundred tickets sold prior to the event and a varsity title on the line. It is billed as the biggest domestic futsal game in the calendar and this year it was even bigger. Marc Forrest and his team transformed the David Ross Sports Village (named after the UoN alumnus & Carphone Warehouse founder following his support to the project) into the belle of the ball in terms of futsal venues in the UK.
Walking into sports halls in England, even those of universities, can often leave you with a feeling of ‘meh’ as pale walls and multi-marking floors don’t do much in terms of evoking emotion or inspiring people. Not this time. As I arrive Marc Forrest greets me and provides a mini tour, explaining what has been done to prepare for this once-a-year event.
Four large green and gold seating pieces (approx. 230 seats each) adorn the sides of the court with spaces for the film crew on the away side and the players’ tunnel on the home side. The smoke machine causes confusion as they begin preparations and the lights from the rig above dance through the haze onto the surface which will soon become a battleground. This is an event; the stage has been set with the intention to prove what futsal can be and what the university can deliver.
On the first floor, beyond the glass screens and in front of the balustrading are the VIP areas for both UoN and NTU along with Nottingham Students TV and the crew from Nottingham Tec controlling the lighting.
The dancers and cheerleaders are preparing, the microphones for the acapella group are ready and waiting, the security staff and paramedic service are being briefed – everything about this screams professionalism. Small scale, of course, but professionalism. The small details matter.
As we make our way towards the changing rooms we see women’s head coach, Becky Langley, before Marc is stopped by various others each checking that something or other is done or advising what needs to be done. Marc may have taken the lead on this event but it’s abundantly clear that this is a team effort. Team UoN.
“We compiled a list of things that we hoped to achieve for the event and we fulfilled the majority”, Marc tells me as we approach the changing room for the men. The shirts are already hung (some four hours before kick-off), with the rest of the kit lay neatly in their places with Pulse Roll products and each spot has a small poster of the player above it. The intention is to not only make it memorable for the spectators but for the players, too.
What ensued over the next few hours can only be described as my favourite futsal event in England so far. The detailed delivery of high production value events is something that we need more of. I’m not going to jump in and say I expect this level of planning for the new National League competition as that would undermine the work that Marc and UoN have put in to this, but it would certainly be nice if some clubs had the conversation on how this was achieved.
I hope that people can take a moment to enjoy this event (and hopefully the coverage of it) and not immediately use it as a stick with which to beat others. Give UoN their due credit – don’t make it about anybody else.
The women’s game set the tone for the evening with a high intensity start and some nice moves before UoN opened the scoring on eight minutes via an own goal. NTU responded on 12’ with a nicely worked set piece and the remainder of the half played out as a war of attrition, UoN going ahead twice more and NTU pegging them back twice more. At 3-3, the first half gave us a really entertaining display and showed what women’s futsal can look like in England. Hopefully we will see some cross over of these players into the new FA League structure next season.
After the break UoN only needed 17 seconds to edge back in front before NTU pegged them back yet again on 26’. The moment of the game, arguably, came on 28’ as UoN went long from a GK restart into pivot Inga-Malene Huse who controlled and played in two touches to Brooklynn Meinke who finished beautifully and there proved to be no way back for NTU after this point as Huse quickly added number six.
It was noticeable that fatigue had started to play a part in the game with 10 minutes to go and NTU Head Coach David Tapia Owens explained that many of the team played their BUCS playoff game just 24 hours before the varsity, which makes the first half display even more credible whilst up against a team of UoN’s calibre.
The seventh and final goal for UoN came from Sophie Haywood which capped an impressive performance, perhaps only bettered by that of Brooklynn Meinke who had this to say on the event:
“Nottingham varsity as a whole has been one of the coolest events I have experienced since I’ve come out to the UK. All week I’ve had such a great time getting involved in the rivalry, and so to give in to this big event by playing has been an incredible highlight of my time here at uni.
“I won’t lie, I was really nervous coming into the match but once we kicked off I was really up for it. This fixture also meant a lot in that it was my last time suiting up with my girls and we were going to be able to showcase how far we’ve come as a futsal team this season and to pull off an exciting win on that stage was unbelievable.”
The game finished UoN 7 – 4 NTU and, despite the result, NTU captain Emily Gunn remained upbeat the performance and taking part in the game:
“All players put in 100% and I agree with many people saying that it was the best futsal varsity performance the girls from Trent have played! Hopefully with a bit more training we will be able to secure the win next year.
“It was a great experience for all the girls to play in front of so many who were cheering us all on, it’s definitely an experience that most of them have probably never had before and we all thoroughly enjoyed it – minus the defeat!”
Reflecting on the victory, UoN Women’s Head Coach, Becky Langley had this to say:
“We are delighted to have won varsity for UoN! The girls are ecstatic. I am so pleased that the hard work over the season has paid off. The girls showed off what they can do. They were aggressive and hard working out of possession and had that real flare and creativity in possession with some excellent goals being scored!
“[This was the] first varisty for myself and I couldn’t be prouder. It’s a fantastic tradition for both universities. It was an excellent contest, we knew Trent had a strong side after some real competitive football fixtures this season, but I’m delighted on this occasion we have come out on top!”
With the women’s result finalised, the news filtered through shortly after that other sport results confirmed the varsity series for UoN for 2019, but it didn’t deter the NTU support who continued to arrive in anticipation of the men’s fixture. Throughout both games, chants and cries were tossed across the court from one side to another, from the outright odd “Uni of wear Sketchers”, which still has me chuckling, right through to some comments that I can’t repeat on a family friendly website!
The men’s game started exactly the same way as the women’s, fast paced, intense and a physical battle. UoN have a star-studded line-up boasting international experience at senior and U19 level but it was NTU that took the lead in the fourth minute.
Four fouls in the first quarter, a goal line clearance that looked certain to be in and England U19 captain Jared Rand on a booking – emotions were running high for UoN but they were beginning to assert their authority on the game and were rewarded with a Jonathan Álvarez equaliser in the ninth minute following a lovely forward ball from UoN GK Joe Payne.
Álvarez turned villain for UoN on 12’ as his needless Rabona was intercepted and quickly found its way into the top of Payne’s goal. NTU had their tails up following this and it turned into a frenzy as they found themselves three goals in front just one minute later. Things looked to be spiralling out of control for UoN and, whilst there were no more goals in the half and they did manage to steady the ship, looking back on the game it was probably the half-time break that saved them.
For all the momentum that went NTU’s way in the first half, UoN had that and more in the second. Two goals in the first five minutes of the second half, one from Jonathan Álvarez and a penalty from a now calm-headed Jared Rand, and it was obvious that UoN were well up for this and there wasn’t a huge amount NTU could do about it.
28’ gone and Jonathan Álvarez completed his hat-trick as UoN levelled the score at four-four. 29’ gone and Nick Lane delicately dinks the ball over Cameron Riley in the NTU goal to give UoN the lead and it was all going wrong for the pink and blue side of Nottingham.
The final 10 minutes were a matter of game management and when Jared Rand finished his 1v1 to make it UoN 6 – 4 NTU the job became straightforward – yet dangerous – for UoN as they faced the fly ‘keeper. Keep the shape and put the onus on NTU, something they were able to do and see the game out as NTU endeavoured but came up short.
University of Nottingham 6 – 4 Nottingham Trent University was the final score and Uni of Nottingham have a futsal double for 2019. UoN Head of Performance Futsal, Marc Forrest, expressed his satisfaction following the win:
“We felt that it was in our hands going into the second half, we have a way of playing and it was about focusing on ourselves. Everyone contributed, the players were positive, Edu [Valor] is a great support and, England Partially Sighted Futsal Captain, Steve Daley joined us for the day who was a positive presence for the boys.”
UoN captain and hat-trick hero Jonathan Álvarez added “The crowd was outstanding, never stopped believing. The sense of togetherness across the club is amazing with team spirit very high. I think that’s why we’re having success on court because of our club cohesion off of it.”
For a full gallery of the varsity futsal action go to https://www.facebook.com/pg/thefutsalindy/photos/?ref=page_internal
To recap the game, visit the NSTV Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/nstvofficial/videos/?ref=page_internal
More words to follow from the players & coaches…