This is my second season with Lynx Futsal.
I joined the club in the summer of 2019 in preparation for UEFA Futsal Champions League preliminary round which was held in Amsterdam. I came to this club knowing the high standards and expectations, after having won a Futsal Rock Cup and two Futsal 1st Division Runners up medals with St Joseph Futsal. Plus two Futsal 1st Division Runners up medals with Gib Phoenix.
Life at Lynx has started great. I feel our performance in the Champions League was very good against decent sides, the highlight been pushing Helvécia Futsal (England) all the way, even leading the match on four occasions.
More success followed, as we won the Luisito Bonavia Futsal Super Cup. When we reached February finishing the regular league on top, without losing a match, everything was falling into the place. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Nothing prepares you for the year we had to deal with, no managerial experience, no courses or rule book. Thinking back all I have is praise for the players, the committee, the president, and the whole Lynx family for coming together and fighting through these difficult times, it has shown me this club has a lot of character in dealing with adversity.
Preparations for this season’s UEFA Champions participation were less than adequate. On a “normal” season we would be training all year round, play competitive league matches till June, then train from mid-June till August when Futsal Champions league would be played. In-between there would be availability for friendlies and summer tournaments in Spain to get match fitness up to top form. To put into perspective what we needed to come through, our last league match was February 2020. After that came the COVID-19 lockdown meaning players didn’t optimise any form of training regime for months. Finally, we started doing elementary training in August.
It was a massive struggle to get players fit. There were restrictions on gathering, on use of sports halls, on availability of allocations for the sports halls. The sports halls in Spain were closed plus we had to contend with restrictions to travel and curfews.
Simply put, planning even only a week became impossible.
The most significant issue I had to deal with was the mental health challenge of everyone involved, including my own.
Everyone in the squad is unique and each individual was dealing with this supernatural world crisis in their own way. Some were more worried about the spread and concerned about putting themselves or their families at risk, others had family members fighting the infection, others dealing with isolation after been close contact with someone with the virus. The stress of just trying to make it to training overwhelmed others.
For me personally it was the not knowing … not knowing in March if there was going be playoffs or who would take the Champions league spot, should it even go ahead.
Once in August there were other challenges. When would we get to the sports hall? Will there be new restrictions? New protocols? Can I even train the whole team?
Then you had the phone calls …“I’m waiting for my test result”, “I’m self-isolating “, “a colleague at work has tested positive, ”I’m getting tested tomorrow” … and so on …
In the end as a result of the enormous support of Futsal Director Karl Zarb, we managed to achieve 20-25 training sessions and worked around restrictions to play some friends in Portugal, Andorra and Spain. Even these trips posed mental challenges since traveling meant more (country-specific) restrictions.
The Portugal visit was the perfect trip for what was supposed to be the UEFA Futsal Champions League format at the time. It simulated what we would normally encounter, three high level matches in four days, one of these being Braga – one of the top 3 teams in the Portuguese 1st Division. We competed very well in all three matches.
We then played two matches in Spain against Spanish 3rd Division teams Benalup and Alchoyanno, where we came back with a 5-2 victory and 1-1 draw respectfully. Our team showed its quality through both matches.
Finally, we made the trip to Andorra. This helped the players get accustomed to traveling as a team, traveling and playing under very strict COVID-19 restrictions, as well as getting more game time. We played two matches in less than 24 hours against Javier Saviola’s (ex-Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, Argentina) Encamp Futsal. Again, we were very good in both matches wining 9-7 and losing the 2nd match 4-2, despite sustaining a number of injuries on the first day.
For the UEFA Futsal Champions League we were drawn against Belguim side Charleroi, Futsal Champions League winners in 2004/05. We ended up playing the match at the end of November.
During the match itself I felt that the boys gave everything, and the performance did not merit the final result of 13-1. Individual errors cost us dearly, for me a more accurate score based on game play would have been 9-4, 7-3 or something along those lines.
We do need to put into perspective the quality of the team that we faced, no club in Gibraltar either in futsal or 11-a-side has faced a club within the top 20 UEFA rankings. Having said this, we will try to prepare ourselves to compete better at this level next season.
At present I am hopeful local futsal league will start soon and it will be able to be completed before UEFA’s June deadline. At the moment the reality is that under current restrictions the league has been unable to start nor any training has been able to take place. We are pretty much in Groundhog Day … exactly like we were after our last league match in February 2020, without been able to train and not knowing when or if the league will take place.
I haven’t been able to meet up with my players since before Christmas and I know no one has been able to maintain their fitness level with the scenario we are living with, so my hope is that if the league is to take place we can get a good number of training sessions in before it starts.
However, our focus and aim is still the same, winning a 7th League and participating again next season in UEFA Champions League.