Read all about it: The bi­ble preach­ing the ben­e­fits of the beau­ti­ful wee game

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW LIND­SAY

“Some­times you’d be play­ing against guys who hadn’t been home from their Fri­day night out. They’d ar­rive straight from The Garage

THE widely-held view of Scot­land as, both in health and in foot­ball terms, the sick man of Europe can be quickly dis­pelled by a visit to any one of the myr­iad five-aside com­plexes dot­ted across the coun­try.

The ab­bre­vi­ated ver­sion of the beau­ti­ful game is well and truly boom­ing in a na­tion which is both no­to­ri­ous for be­ing the heart at­tack cap­i­tal of the con­ti­nent and de­rided for the ef­forts of both its club sides and na­tional team.

The same is true in England where the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion has es­ti­mated there are no fewer than 1.5 mil­lion adults play­ing small-sided foot­ball ev­ery week and 30,000 teams com­pet­ing in or­gan­ised leagues.

The two largest five-a-side cen­tre com­pa­nies, Goals and Pow­er­league, boast 130,000 play­ers per week and 560,000 play­ers per month re­spec­tively. The game is, with­out doubt, noth­ing short of a mod­ern day phe­nom­e­non.

The as­ton­ish­ing pop­u­lar­ity of “fives” has in­spired one keen par­tic­i­pant, the former Her­ald sports jour­nal­ist Martin Greig, to help to pro­duce the de­fin­i­tive guide to the pur­suit in Bri­tain, The Five-A-Side Bi­ble.

“Par­tic­i­pa­tion lev­els are mas­sive,” said Greig. “Five-a-side foot­ball is much big­ger than eleven-a-side. There are so many ad­van­tages when it comes to fit­ting it into a mod­ern life­style. It is the most pop­u­lar and fastest grow­ing area of adult foot­ball.”

The im­pact on the well­be­ing of play­ers is sig­nif­i­cant and it surely has a ma­jor role to play in en­sur­ing the in­hab­i­tants of Scot­land, more renowned for their poor fit­ness lev­els than their sport­ing prow­ess, both get and re­main ac­tive in the fu­ture.

“Pro­fes­sor Pe­ter Krus­trup of the Univer­sity of Copenhagen in Den­mark started to look at the men­tal and phys­i­cal ben­e­fits of five-a-side foot­ball in 2003 and over 70 re­search pa­pers have been pub­lished on the sub­ject,” said Greig. “It has been proven to be bet­ter all-in-one train­ing than cy­cling, swim­ming and walk­ing and is ev­ery bit as good for you as run­ning. It re­duces blood pres­sure and rest­ing heart rate, it re­duces body fat and it low­ers choles­terol lev­els.

“We have got this rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing of be­ing a very un­fit race in Scot­land. But if you go to a five-a-side com­plex in Scot­land any night of the week you will find it is rammed with peo­ple aged be­tween 16 and 60. That must be hav­ing a pos­i­tive af­fect.”

Yet, Greig, who now helps to run pub­lish­ing com­pany Back­PagePress, had his eyes opened when he started play­ing five-a-side foot­ball and ad­mits the ded­i­ca­tion of his ri­val com­peti­tors of­ten fell some way short of their pro­fes­sional coun­ter­parts.

“I played a lot of am­a­teur foot­ball when I was young, but when I got into my early twen­ties and started work­ing I couldn’t play eleven-a-side so I got into play­ing fives on a Satur­day morn­ing,” said Greig. “I would play with my mates against ran­dom teams. It was an un­be­liev­able ex­pe­ri­ence. Some­times you would be play­ing against guys who hadn’t been home from their Fri­day night out. They would ar­rive straight from The Garage.

“Guys would smoke fags on the pitch. One time a boy let his pit­bull loose and the referee had to aban­don the game. Play­ers would turn up with no team. They just loved to play foot­ball and would ask for a match.

“There were be­tween 15 to 20 pitches at Pitz in Town­head and ev­ery one of them would have a game on. It would be like that from ten o’clock on a Satur­day morn­ing un­til ten o’clock at night. The matches were con­stant. That was be­ing repli­cated at ev­ery five-a-side com­plex in Glas­gow.”

The scene in the soc­cer-ob­sessed city soon held him as trans­fixed as the bat­tle for the Scot­tish ti­tle be­tween Celtic and Rangers or the lat­ter stages of the Cham­pi­ons League.

“The Evenin g Times pub­lished the five-a-side leagues on their re­sults pages ev­ery week,” added Greig. “There were some ex­tra­or­di­nary team names. They were witty, rude and down­right of­fen­sive. I’d buy the pa­per just to read them. My mates and I used to have a laugh in the pub at the re­sults.

“You would have the Les­bian Lions tak­ing on Buck­fast Ath­letic, Beercelona ver­sus Bay­ern Bru and Rapid Vi­en­netta play­ing Fiorentina Turner. There is a sec­tion in the book on great team names. The Neville Wears Prada, Mir­ror Sig­nal Malouda and Mur­der on Zi­dane’s Floor are also favourites. I was re­ally taken by all that sort of stuff. We wanted to re­flect the cul­ture in The Five-A-Side Bi­ble. Chris Bruce of 5-aside.com has writ­ten it. It even goes into tac­tics and the ad­van­tages of proper nu­tri­tion. It is a com­pre­hen­sive guide to the game.”

Con­tain­ing in­sight­ful in­ter­views with, among oth­ers, Arse­nal man­ager Arsene Wenger – an ad­vo­cate of five-aside foot­ball – and Matt Le Tissier, the former Southamp­ton and England mid­fielder who is now a reg­u­lar player, the Five-A-Side Bi­ble is a fas­ci­nat­ing and en­ter­tain­ing read.

The Five-A-Side Bi­ble by Chris Bruce is pub­lished by Back­PagePress and Freight Books and costs £14.99.

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