For most young athletes, playing one sport is hectic enough. For Alicia Povey, however, playing two sports and working 9-5 is second-nature.
Alicia plays football for Wycombe Wanderers Ladies and futsal for Reading Royals, and says she has always loved sports.
“I started playing football in primary school and it was because my teacher used to play for West Ham, so she was very keen to get us all involved.
“I joined a local team and played with them for a while, then when I was 14/15, I was looking for a bit of a step up so I had a few trials at Arsenal and Reading.”
With her parents working full-time, the constant travel around the country became a challenge, so Alicia signed up for her local team Wycombe Wanderers Ladies.
She has remained at Wycombe Wanderers ever since, playing regularly for the club until she went to study Languages at the University of Bath in 2015.
“Bath had a really good football set-up – I played a lot there, I was training four or five times a week, and that’s when I started playing futsal as well.
“Last season I sort of took a step back from football to concentrate on my final year exams because it was getting a bit much, studying two languages and doing history/politics modules alongside that.”
Since graduating from university, Alicia is now playing regularly for Wycombe Wanderers and says it feels like being back home.
“It’s a bit of a bizarre feeling coming back now, having joined Wycombe when I was 15.
“There’s been so many different coaches, different players – I think there’s only me and one other girl still there from when I first joined.
“It’s been a bit of a journey, but going into the new season I’m feeling positive.”
Though football was her first love, Alicia’s passion for futsal has grown rapidly since she began playing during her time at university.
The 24-year-old plays for Reading Royals, which officially formed in 2019 and is going from strength to strength.
“At Reading we’ve got such a good group of girls and the club is really supportive. I’ve played futsal for six years, which isn’t long in the grand scheme of things so I know that I can still improve.
“There is a lot of flair involved in futsal – you’re on the ball every other minute unlike in football where you’re lucky to get the ball every few minutes.”
Women’s futsal in England has certainly come a long way since Alicia began playing the sport.
The National Futsal League – the main competition pathway for women in England – ran from 2008 until 2019, when the FA launched the Futsal Super Series.
Unfortunately, the inaugural series was abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but Alicia believes it is a sign that the FA are putting more thought into the sport.
“It’s definitely an exciting time to be playing futsal. The Women’s Super Series was reaching a good level before Covid forced us to stop.”
However, with no England women’s national team, it’s clear that women’s futsal hasn’t reached the same level as the men’s game just yet.
“I think it’s definitely come a long way, but at the same time, it’s got a long way to go – nearly all of us still have full-time jobs alongside playing,” said Alicia, who works as Alumni Events & Communications Officer at Hertford College, Oxford.
“There’s a lot of areas where if you wanted to play futsal, you wouldn’t be able to: in Bristol and South West England, there aren’t really any teams that are playing at a high level now.
“A lot of it is because of the process when the National League ended – teams had to reapply to be a part of the FA Super Series, and a lot of them just didn’t do it so there’s a lack of teams in some areas.”
She believes that visibility is a big part of improving the level of women’s futsal in England.
“Futsal is such a good development sport. I hate saying that because it is its own thing, but it is a really good development tool for football.
“Teaching it in schools would be really good and getting girls playing at a younger age would make a big difference – before lockdown we were about to start doing a Wildcats futsal programme with Reading Royals.”
Alicia says her time spent abroad in Spain both before and during her degree has showed her how differently futsal is viewed abroad, particularly in Europe.
“In Spain and Portugal, it’s really well established and has been for years: everyone knows what futsal is and it’s really well respected.
“There’s really a lot of people in England who just think that futsal is like five-a-side or FIFA Street, so I think we need to have that understanding about what it is.
“If we can get more people going to matches and understanding more, that’s when the respect and interest will follow.”
Despite acknowledging that the coronavirus pandemic has put a halt to the development of futsal in England, Alicia is feeling confident about the future of the game.
“There are loads of people who are really passionate about futsal in the UK.
“We’ll see what the FA do in the next few years, but it’s great sign that they’ve taken those first steps by investing in the Futsal Super Series.”