Across the UK there’s a revolution going on and it’s happening on Astroturf. 5-a-side has now surpassed its bigger cousin as the most played football format and to celebrate this surge in popularity a definitive and wry guide for all you Tuesday night Pirlos is now available in all good book stores.
We spoke to the author Chris Bruce about goalkeeping masterclasses, rooftop pitches, and a team of wags called Murder On Zidane’s Floor….

DC: The world of 5 a side is a far-reaching subject. Where do you even start with such a project?

CB: You’re right, the 5-a-side world is massive. Over the past decade, a revolution has been going on in the UK with more and more people playing the game. The FA have estimated that 1.5 million people play some form of “small-sided” football each week and it’s now played more widely than the full 11-a-side game!

I’ve been blogging about the 5-a-side game for over 2 years now on and have seen a steadily increasing stream of people wanting to read about it and share their tips and experiences. When the idea for the book was presented to me, the publishers and I identified two main things that we thought the 5-a-side Bible should cover.

First, there’s a culture that has developed around the 5-a-side game and, although we all play it in different locations in slightly different ways, we all share a lot of common experiences. There’s plenty that picks up on this in the book, such as ‘the 15 people you always see at 5-a-side’, ‘the worst excuses for not turning up to 5-a-side’, and ‘tales from the pitch’. I think everyone will be able to relate to these bits – we had a lot of fun writing them.

Second, there was a whole aspect around ‘performance’ that we wanted to cover. One of the beauties of 5-a-side is that it’s such an informal game, but the flipside of this is that a lot of people have never really thought about the way they play and prepare for games. So we’ve included lots of advice that should not only make you a better player, but should improve your overall enjoyment too. This includes tips from legends of the game, a goalkeeping masterclass, advice on how to take the best penalties, how to do a proper warm-up, and what to eat before a game – to name just a few topics. It’s stuff that can be applied by any player, whatever their standard, to improve their overall experience.

DC: The book contains some of the world’s most iconic 5 a side pitches. Can you give us some examples?

CB: There are some ingenious ideas out there for locations of 5-a-side pitches, and we have some great pictures in the book covering some of the best. One of my favourites is the Tokyo Futsal Park (see below), which is an amazing rooftop pitch, in Shibuya, Tokyo.
I would love to see rooftop pitches take off more here in the UK – I think it’s a great answer to where we can locate pitches in built-up urban areas.

The Tokyo Futsal park. It's your turn to get it.

The Tokyo Futsal park.
It’s your turn to get it.

DC: Even with your extensive knowledge beforehand when researching the book were there any preconceptions shattered or conversely any discoveries that raised an eyebrow?

CB: One of the things I really found interesting working on the book was just hearing everyone else’s perspective on the game. Whether it is Arsene Wenger’s view on tactics, or Matt Le Tissier telling us about his weekly game with his mates, I felt like I was getting a fresh view of it each time. As an example, Le Tissier described 5-a-side as being a lot like the way 11-a-side is played in the 18-yard box, but for the whole game. In my 20 years of playing 5-a-side I’ve never thought about it like that, but as soon as I heard it I just thought that’s a perfect description to describe how frantic the game can be.
Some interesting stuff also came out of the interviews I did with five 5-a-side legends. Basically, we searched high and low for five of the very best players to have ever played the game. They’re probably not people you’ve ever heard of, but they play the game on a level above everyone else. When you see them play they look sublime, and instantly you start to marvel at their ability, which I had assumed was largely down to natural talent. However, when I asked them for their secret they all – to a man – said they were nothing out of the ordinary when they started playing the game. It emphasised to me that so much about being good at the game is getting enough experience of it, and understanding what you need to do to be really effective. Fortunately we persuaded them to share their tips.

DC: The Bible contains tips on warm-ups and warm-downs, habits that are completely alien to the lads who play in our league! How important are both?

CB: I don’t have an official statistics, but my guess is that over 80% of all 5-a-side players don’t do any kind of warm-up at all. Let’s face it, the typical 5-a-side preparation seems to be everybody hurrying onto the pitch, standing around chatting and smashing the ball at whoever is daft enough to be standing in goal.
I used to do the same, but as you get older you have to view your body more like a classic car. It will still do a job, but you can’t just expect to thrash it around without much care and attention. Failure to warm-up can lead to unnecessary injuries and time spent out of the game. If you’ve ever pulled a hamstring kicking a ball in the first couple of minutes (a very common occurrence), you might well have been able to avoid this if you’d just done a proper warm-up.
I’m in my 30s now, but the goal is to be able to play 5-a-side into my 60s and maybe beyond. There’s no reason why people can’t – we’ve got an interview with someone in the book who’s still going strong at that age. But to do that you have to be bit careful with the way you treat yourself along the way, which includes warming-up and stretching. You’ll see in the book how to get it done efficiently and effectively.

DC: One of our favourite aspects of 5 a side are the team names from the more imaginative. What are some of your favourites that you’ve encountered?

CB: The stuff that people come up with for team names never ceases to amaze me! Teams are so inventive with their creations. We’ve got a load in the book, but a couple of classics that I love are: ‘The Neville wears Prada’, ‘Murder on Zidane’s Floor’, ‘Fifty Shades of Andy Gray’, and ‘Fiorentina Turner’.

DC: Which Premier League player do you most closely resemble when you’re on the Astroturf?

CB: That’s a tough one. I’m not sure there’s a player that really encapsulates me well at the moment. I’m 6’4 but not quite Peter Crouch proportions. I used to describe myself as a strange mix of Rivaldo and Carlton Palmer – now there’s an image for you. Moments of class, mixed with shades of pragmatism and occasional gangliness.

The 5-a-side Bible is available now in hardcover from Amazon and can be purchased with a discount here