The midfield maestro met Rovers’ 15 Futsal Scholars, who are coming towards the end of their first year on the programme, which provides 16 to 18-year-old football fans with the unique opportunity to study and train at Ewood Park.
During the scholarship, Rovers’ representatives compete in a professional Futsal environment against other Football League clubs, whilst earning first-class qualifications that will help them gain employment in the sport and leisure industry at the same time.
Participant Arron Phillipson believes Fulsal has a big future in the English game and was delighted to meet one of Rovers’ rising stars.
“When I was at school, I was going to go to a normal college and then I found out about the Futsal course, so I came down and had an interview,” he said.
“I also had an interview at Accrington and got on the course there, but Blackburn’s my hometown team, so there’s nothing better than to play for them!
“Futsal is going to be a big changing thing in English football. It’s already started with The FA coaches and it brings something different to your game, in terms of your touch and your passing and your movement. Foreign players, like your Iniesta’s and your Xavi’s, they’re the kings of Futsal and they show it in 11-a-side.
“In Futsal, you’re free to do what you want. If you want to do a few skills, you can do a few skills. It’s just a case of showing how good you are, in terms of your ability. Beating players with the ball. It’s benefited my 11-a-side game so much. I’ve changed positions in 11-a-side, I’ve moved from a defender to an attacker and that’s all because of Futsal, improving my touch.
“The most important thing though is the Education side, because without that we wouldn’t have the Futsal. If we don’t hand in work on time, we don’t get to play on Wednesdays, so it gives us an incentive to learn. At College, I might have been dossing about, but with this I want to play Futsal, so I need to do my Education first.
“I’ve already done my Level 1 coaching and I’m looking to join the coaching staff at the Community Trust after I’ve finished. If I can get my Level Two, and my Futsal qualification, then hopefully I’ll be helping out here in future years. It would be a dream come true. I used to always come down to the Soccer Schools, so it would be amazing to represent Rovers.
“Tom Cairney is an absolutely quality player and I think it’s good to see that the first team are showing an interest in the Futsal. He’s given up his own time to come down here, which is good.”
Cairney enjoyed his first Futsal experience and was impressed with the students skills.
“It looks like my kind of game,” he said. “Five against five, a small pitch, you’ve got to keep the ball on the floor, it’s all about touch and passing – I’d really like to play it!
“It’s been good watching the boys, there’s some good technical players. When I was in the youth team, I did a BTEC in Education. It’s important to do a College course, so if it doesn’t work out, you’ve got that to fall back on.
“I think they’re all Blackburn fans as it is, which makes it even more special for them, and it’s good that the club get involved in stuff like this, which I don’t think people know about most of the time. They think footballers are just all about themselves, so to give stuff like this back to the community is brilliant and it can only benefit Blackburn.”
Chris McGrail, Rovers’ Head of Futsal and School Sport, added: “The FA wanted to put Futsal to the forefront and we said that we wanted to get involved and took it on board. It isn't just about Futsal, it is also an educational project. It is just like a youth team scholarship, at the end of it they'll come out with a Level 3 BTEC, so they getting an education whilst they are playing.
"It is for those kids who have maybe missed out at an Academy at 16 and maybe still want to carry on and play full-time. This is the course for them really.
“If they are behind on their education then they don't train. It is just like professional football – if you don't turn up for training, you won't be involved in the squad for the weekend. It is the same mentality, but we just use it in a different context.
"Obviously we want them to have an education, we want them to be going on and progressing in life, but, secondly, if they want to carry on in sport then what a great opportunity to maybe get a job at Blackburn Rovers. One lad has already gone on to get his Level 1 in coaching. He'll be working with us in the Easter holidays and getting paid for it, so not only is he now a scholar, but he's a member of staff as well.
“It was fantastic to have Tom Cairney down here. Watching him on the pitch, he's technically quick, he's good on the ball, his first touch and control is amazing, he can beat one or two players and that is why we are looking at him to be our Ambassador for Futsal. Someone of his ability and his stature is massive for the lads and with him being of a young age as well it really appeals to the guys here at 16 and 17 years of age."