HIGH FIVES ALL ROUND...
Read all about it: The bible preaching the benefits of the beautiful wee game
“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.