Sala Soccer Schools Manchester: Neil Lucas
Neil Lucas was working for the Daily Mirror, and had two young sons who he wanted the best for in football and in life. Then one day a head master told him he was so good at coaching that he needed to quit his job and do it full time. That was the tipping point, and so he did.
And since then he has been putting belief in others and giving them opportunities too. 380 kids learn weekly, 66 have signed for professional academies since 2009, and he is the reason I moved to Manchester. I had a chat with the man who is all about giving and taking chances.
The beginning of futsal in England…
Brazilian player Juninho went to Middlesborough. Simon Clifford could speak a bit of Portuguese. So he became friends with him and helped him bed in to Middlesborough.
He asked Juninho to come to one of his sessions one day, who said it was like swimming on land. ‘When are you going to get the futebol de salaos out?’ Simon said he didn’t know what he meant, and that was the start of it. He started up Brazilian Soccer Schools in about 98/99.
I’d followed him from 2001. I’d been reading his books and DVDs – Learn to Play the Brazilian Way, and Soccer Skills with Jayjay Okocha. I did a lot of the work with Oscar [Neil’s older son] at home. In about 2007 I fancied doing it myself so I had some meetings with him.
Going for it…
I thought you know what, I’m going to go for it and I bought a franchise. I ended up doing a doing a Brazilian Soccer School. And I ran it for a couple of years.
I started with about eight kids in Mossley in 2009, just Oscar and his mates from the club. And within 3 months it grew to 50 kids.
One of the kids that used to come to me had a Dad who was the headmaster at Oscar’s school. Actually he taught headmasters how to headmaster- an area manager. He said to me ‘you know what, you’re that good a coaching you need to quit your job and go and do that fulltime’. It was someone in authority, who had been teaching for so many years. For him to say that, I thought ‘blimmin’ hell’. It was a tipping point.
I’d given up work. I went all in. I had no kids, I bought the franchise and I just went for it. I used to work for Daily Mirror and the hours were all over the place.
Futsal growth and future plans.
In 2012 I had 200 kids. Then I made Little Strikers and Sala Soccer Schools. I went on my own. I wrote the programme and it started getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I had a goal, and got stuck on 200.
But now, my waiting list for Little Strikers is 30, so I need to grow more.
Sam was on the future jobs fund from the start. I used to work with his Dad, he’d done his Level 2 and wanted to learn. Tom is full time.
I also help in schools programmes with the Little Strikers programme. I go into schools and do PE in the day with Tom and Sam, with other sports as well.
What’s next? I don’t know. I still have the passion. But I’m happy now.
I want to get my Uefa B Futsal. If it was up to me I’d like to coach an adult’s team, but I have a family to look after too.
I also run a charity as well, so I do funding for charities. Running free programmes for kids in places like this in Gorton. [On Fridays where some of the best kids train is streamed sessions, it is in a very nice school facility, in a poorer suburb. So realistically, most local kids can’t afford to come to his programme there]. There might be a famous futsal player in the making on those streets there, and if we don’t get him in he’ll be lost forever.
Why is it only people that can afford it? I find that kids that can afford it don’t always have that drive because they can have anything. There are some kids out on the streets there who can’t afford to come but they want it more than anything.
They want to better themselves, their family and this could be the way for them. If you look at Brazil and kids in the favelas -they’ll do anything to be a footballer.
Neil’s Sala Futsal Boys
Since 2009, 66 kids have signed for professional academies, and we expect more in the upcoming intake. We’ve had players at Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool.
My son Oscar had two years at Liverpool [now U14]. They’ve said he’s technically one of the best in the group. He’s also been working with a top strength and conditioning coach to help develop physically too. But I’m under no illusions, he might not have everything.
But Neil is all about chances. The head master convinced him to take one as a coach, born out of the desire and curiosity to create the best environment for his sons to have a chance. As a result, he has given 66 young players a chance in academy football, two young men the chance for full time coaching in football, and this New Zealander a chance to come to the other side of the world to work in futsal coaching in a city I love.
So, even if Oscar ‘may not have everything’, thanks to his dedicated father, he has a chance. And as a result of his dad’s hard work to create the best environment for him, thousands of young people in Manchester do too.
Sometimes the only thing better than having a chance, is to give someone else one.