Melksham Town’s assistant manager and England futsal captain, Luke Ballinger, received a golden cap in front of 90,000 Wembley fans last week.
Luke, who holds the record for the most England futsal appearances, caps and goals, received the honour at half-time during the 0-0 match between England and Brazil at Wembley. The golden honour marks 100 appearances for the England futsal team.
Luke has played for England futsal since 2007, clocking up 60 goals including four hat-tricks, skippering the team 60 times. He is the first England futsal player to reach the milestone of 100 caps, which he achieved in a game against Germany away last year.
He said, “It was an unbelievable honour to collecting my golden cap at Wembley, the home of English football and a very proud moment. It was great to finally get my hands on the gold cap after clocking up my 100th appearance in November last year.
“Wembley was a great place to do it, I couldn’t have imagined this is where futsal would have taken me when I started playing in the local league at the Olympiad in Chippenham.
“It’s been an incredible privilege, not only to represent my country, but to captain the team and travel the world to play.”
Futsal is a form of 5-a-side football played on a hard court with a small, harder ball than regular football. Substitutions are unlimited across two 20-minute halves, and the fast-paced games emphasise passing, creativity and technique.
Originating in South America, some of the world’s best players began playing futsal, including superstars Ronaldo, Messi, and Coutinho.
Luke not only plays for England but also plays for FC Salisbury United in the FA Futsal Super League, and is a co-director of Future of Football, a weekly skills-based football programme for young players aged between three and 14, based in Wiltshire.
He believes that futsal is an ideal basis to develop players’ technical skills, because of the fast-paced nature of the game and the small court.
He said, “Players need time on the ball to develop and that’s what futsal offers. It’s crucial for young players to have as much time with the ball at their feet as possible, instead of chasing it around a huge field, so they can build confidence, decision-making and all important technical skills – which we know English football players have been accused of lacking for years.
“Alongside technical skills-based games and exercises, small futsal games provide the opportunity to develop the technique that will serve a player throughout their playing life, something I and Future of Football are absolutely passionate about. I’d love to see the game become more and more popular throughout the country”
Luke Ballinger made his England debut in 2007 against Azerbaijan in Turkey in 2007, aged 19, and has travelled the world to represent his country, including Malaysia, Israel and Qatar.
“My most memorable game was playing Lithuania away in the European qualifiers – we won 4-2 in front of a very hostile crowd and it was the first time we had qualified through the preliminary rounds. We had two players sent off, which made the game even more challenging – the feeling at the end of the game was incredible.”
In 2009, England played against Libya and Luke and the team were invited to dictator Colonel Gaddafi’s compound as guests.