WOMEN from Lancashire have finally flown the flag for England in the little-known sport of fut-sal.

Lancashire was the first region in the country to embrace fut-sal for male players but the district made history again when local athletes formed the first British Ladies Fut-sal Squad to compete in the World Championships.

These new developments prompted England over-35s fut-sal player Geoff Payton to try and form a National Fut-sal Association.

Geoff, who is manager at Pendle Leisure Centre, believes that the English Football Association will soon have to take fut-sal seriously when the Federation Internationale de Football Association in Switzerland gives its blessing to the new association. Geoff, who introduced the sport to Lancashire after playing the game in Australia, said: "We need a national association to organise league matches of junior, senior, men and women matches as more and more people want to play this sport and it is only a matter of time before it catches on in the rest of the country."

A group of 21 women players from colleges all over the North West had a mere six months to train before going to Australia in January, competing in the televised 17th Futsal World Championships against players who have spent years perfecting their skills.

And although they did not win any trophies, they impressed other international teams with their power shooting, dribbling and ball-winning tactics after such a short affair with the sport - and the organisers want them back next time.

Team member Sarah Myers said: "Everyone really enjoyed it. Although we didn't win, it was good experience and it hasn't put us off competing again." The formation of the women's team came about by sheer chance. Geoff was asked by other world teams at matches why an England Ladies Futsal Squad never competed on the international stage, which set him searching for a team. His break came when he refereed a North West inter-college ladies five-a-side football match.

He said: "I was astounded by their talent and I got them to attend meetings and trials to introduce them to fut-sal. They liked it and the rest is history."

A trio of students from Blackburn College, Anisha Bateman, Sarah Myers and Vicky Greenhalgh, and Nelson and Colne College students Angela Salmon and Rachel Clarkson were picked to represent the country, along with students from colleges in Preston, Lancaster, Morecambe, Blackpool, Leyland and Wigan. Their success was achieved by a well- planned and executed training programme, hours of practice and determination, according to team coach and physical education lecturer Jenny Ainsworth, from Blackburn College

She said: "They practised solid for six months before the championships and were very brave to enter. We were delighted with their performance, considering they were playing with people who had practised since they were kids. They were very well respected by the other teams and are very keen to compete again." Fut-sal originated in Brazil and is played by millions of people worldwide from international superstars to the humblest of park players. It is similar to five-a-side indoor soccer but there is no wall, the nets are hockey size and the ball is smaller and heavier than a regular soccer ball.

The rules differ from soccer in various ways. Players can hit the ball above head height and they can go in the circle to shoot.

Jenny added: "These rules are only slightly different from football but they make for a very different game.

"Fut-sal relies heavily on skill and control and there is no pushing and shoving like there is in football."

She added: "We do hope it catches on with more people. It is an enjoyable sport and there are leagues for people no matter what age, sex or ability."

Anyone interested should contact Geoff at Pendle Leisure Centre on 01282 866842.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.