Urban Spotlight: One-on-One with Futsaler Jade Elliott, Youthful Pioneer in UK’s Football League Trust

A photo posted by Jade Elliott (@jadeelliotttfs) on

Youngsters from the UK are continuing to pioneer new avenues in women’s football. We recently spotlighted teen talent Liv Cooke, the UK’s first and only professional female freestyler. Today, we’re featuring Urban Pitch’s in-depth interview with Jade Elliott, who also hails from the football hotspot of northwest England and is the first female in the region to receive a futsal scholarship from the Football League Trust (FLT), a national non-profit organization. The 17-year-old Elliott currently plays for the Blackburn Rovers in the male FLT Futsal League. 

Could you tell us a bit about your background in regards to football?

My name is Jade Elliott and I am 17 years old. I have been playing football from a very young age (8 years old) at a grassroots football team. I then moved onto playing at academy standard for Blackburn Rovers from U-10’s to U-14’s. At this point, I was told I was too small and then focused on playing futsal.

This was a barrier I had to overcome as I received a lot of sexism from other male characters as there aren’t any local teams in my area that offer a girls futsal team, but I was determined to play in this sort of atmosphere. This means I currently play and train competitively with an all-boys team. I have an older sister who is 22 years old and has played internationally for England and is currently on a football scholarship in America (East Tennessee State University). I also have a younger sister aged 16 who plays for Manchester United U-17’s. From playing futsal I gained an interest in freestyle football and started learning tricks with the ball. I haven’t even been freestyling for half a year yet. I also play for Manchester Ladies Futsal where we compete in the national women’s super league.

This means I currently play and train competitively with an all-boys team.

You’re the recipient of an FLT scholarship and a member of the Blackburn Rovers. What does this scholarship program involve, and how is the futsal league organized?

The futsal scholarship programme is a college course linked with Blackburn Rovers that offers the opportunity to study BTEC Sport Level 3 Extended Diploma (equivalent to 3 A levels) and represent your club at the same time. All your education is done at the stadium and you train for at least one hour a day. I compete in the North West Futsal league which is hosted at Leeds Futsal Arena, about an hour and half from our stadium. This is the closest futsal venue to us.

I’m not going to lie to you and say playing on an all-boys team in an all-boys league is easy, because it isn’t.

We compete once every two weeks and play all the football league teams in the north west such as Preston North End, Sheffield United, and Blackpool FC. There are about 10 teams in each league and we play them at least twice throughout the season. There are five different leagues including a ladies-only league. During the season we compete in a soccer am cup and also if you finish in the top two of your league, you qualify for nationals. Nationals is the biggest event for the Futsal League where you compete against the top two teams from each league to get the final winner of the overall futsal programme. I hardly get a day off with my footballing as I have to travel to Manchester every Tuesday night after college to train two hours for Manchester Futsal and midweek I train for Blackburn Rovers Ladies FC who are in the FA Women’s Premier League. I also have my FA level 1 futsal and football so I do a lot of coaching for the young people in my area as I feel like taking on futsal at a young age will develop your ability to play football massively.

As the first female futsaler on your FLT team, how do you view the significance of your experience? 

Being the first girl to play in the football league trust is massive. It opens up massive pathways for females in the north west area where I live because this coming season we are introducing an all-girls team and so will other north west clubs. This means that I won’t have to compete against boys, I will be in a respected league with females playing competitively in our own league representing our club. I get a lot of people telling me how inspirational I am online which also boosts my confidence and I am always open to give them advice. 

What’s it like on a daily basis playing in an all-boys league?

I’m not going to lie to you and say playing on an all-boys team in an all-boys league is easy, because it isn’t. I have experienced numerous sexist situations which has really knocked my confidence where boys have referenced that girls shouldn’t be playing the sport and threats alongside that. I had to approach the football league trust and let them know about these situations and they almost threw me off playing completely. I also spoke to my manager who is very supportive and wants me to go very far with my football. He is an ex-professional footballer himself, so he inspires me to work hard and I am honoured to have him coach me. However, this is only a small handful of boys. I have gained a lot of respect from my teammates and when I do something amazing such as a nutmeg or a sick skill, the reaction I get is amazing and the male coaches and players shake my hand with respect. It is physically more demanding and challenging than women’s football because boys are a lot stronger than girls so I have to find ways around that. My teammates treat me as if I’m another one of the lads and I like it that way. I got in really well.

How did you become interested in freestyle?

I first started freestyling last year when I was due to sit my exams before the summer holidays. I started off very basic by learning to keep control of the ball in front of my house and keeping my juggling low. I then started watching basic freestyle tutorials made by Learn2Freestyle on YouTube such as the crossover and around the world. As soon as I nailed these two tricks I started to feel a buzz inside me which I really liked and every time I saw videos on YouTube and Instagram I was fascinated. This inspired me to start up an Instagram page to get myself recognized and I started recording myself landing some new tricks. After a while I was gaining appreciation but along with this a lot of sexism. This only made me stronger as I started to combo some tricks which looks really good when you combine tricks together. Going to my training sessions daily on the futsal scholarship enabled me to show off my tricks to the boys, which they were very impressed with. I love the feeling I get when I am able to out do a boy!

Starting with the basics is key and making sure you can land the trick with your weak
and strong foot before moving on will help you land combos and harder tricks in the future …

How long does it take to master a trick? 

Landing a trick in freestyle football varies depending on the level of the trick. For example the first trick I learned was a neck stall and this only took me two sessions of training for about four hours in total. Once you land a trick, it inspires you to keep going and landing more. “Around the World” took me a day to land after I nailed fluent juggling below knee height with both feet. Starting with the basics is key and making sure you can land the trick with your weak and strong foot before moving on will help you land combos and harder tricks in the future. My favourite trick that I can land is “Mitch Around the World” to “Hop the World.” It feels and looks really good. However, I do like to perform multiple around the worlds.

[I] saw a performance by John Farnworth, who is a football freestyler, which amazed me and changed my life completely.

You’re 17 and have already established an impressive soccer, futsal, and now freestyle path. What was your inspiration as a child to get into the sport? 

My inspiration as a young child to start playing was the fact that my dad used to take me to every game Preston North End played, which is my local team I support (championship). And also the fact that I had the basic skills of a footballer from a very young age but my primary school didn’t have a girls team and wouldn’t let me play with the boys so I had to from a young age prove I was good enough. I then got into the boys primary school team and was the best player on the team and given coaches best player at the school soccer camp. I then at a football match for Preston North End saw a performance by John Farnworth who is a football freestyler, which amazed me and changed my life completely.

I used to buy a cheap plastic fly away ball from the supermarkets every time I went shopping with my mum and she always shouted at me and took it off me when she was watching TV.

So is this a family affair? Did you grow up breaking furniture in the house with the soccer ball and jousting with your siblings?

In the family I am not the oldest and I am not the youngest, I have two brothers, one older than me and one who is my twin brother but they are not into football at all. I used to buy a cheap plastic fly away ball from the supermarkets every time I went shopping with my mum and she always shouted at me and took it off me when she was watching TV. I always tried to nutmeg my older sister and younger sister and especially my dad. It always put a smile on my face when I simply put it through their legs whilst they were cooking. I would always rush to eat my tea so I could go in front of my house and kick a ball about. It was always annoying when I’d kick a ball under the car and I’d have to crawl under to get it, especially in the rain.

The U.S. has a professional football league for women but opportunities are still limited. What does a career look like for an English pro female footballer? 

For a professional women’s footballer in the UK, opportunities are very limited due to the game not being very big for females, but the publicity and interest is building rapidly. There are two professional women’s leagues in the UK, these are the women’s super league and the Women’s Super League 2. The only way in which you can enter these leagues are from being promoted from the FA Women’s Premier League and your club being able to afford to move into the league. Every player in the Women’s Super League is paid up to £30,000 a year. The highest paid footballers are the international players. It is very difficult for anyone to get into a super league team if you haven’t represented your country as scouts are looking for the best players in the world to play for their team. Examples of teams in the Super League are Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Doncaster Rovers Belles, and Everton.

How do you see yourself changing the opportunities and general landscape of football where you live? 

I believe that women’s futsal should be bigger than men’s futsal as the physical demand is suited to the way we play. It is a team sport and because the number of players is smaller than football, the team bonding will be brilliant, meaning that you could build up chemistry between each other quickly. Women’s futsal is very scarce and unrecognized in England and I want to see young girls from primary school starting with futsal as it will help aid their overall footballing ability. Women should be allowed to play in men’s futsal leagues by choice because futsal is a non-contact sport and therefore there isn’t any inequalities against either side. I would like to see a mixed gender international futsal team because if the women are good enough or better, then they shouldn’t be stopped from playing futsal against men. That’s what I want to change globally and in my area, I want young girls to start playing futsal and every individual who plays football should be introduced to futsal.

Generally if you don’t try, you won’t succeed and quitters never win, winners never quit. Start with the basics and take it one step forward.

Give us your perspective as a football fan. Are there certain players or role models you follow, and how do you keep up with the scene? 

I didn’t know anything about futsal until I joined the futsal scholarship which I then started to watch clips of the futsal Euros and World Cup. From this I was able to pick my futsal role model who is Ricardinho who plays for Portugal. I started watching some YouTube videos of him and followed him on Instagram and from there, I started to copy some of his tricks and put them into game situations which then became successful competitively. One of my best feelings in futsal is getting a panna because the boys are devastated that a girl has humiliated them at their own game. My role model in football is definitely Lionel Messi who plays for Barcelona! In my opinion he is the best player to ever play football. My favourite freestylers have to be the F2 and Andrew Henderson. My favourite female freestyle footballer is Indi Cowie. Every time they update a video on Instagram it inspires me to post a new challenging video and push for new learns. To meet these people would complete my whole life.

A photo posted by Jade Elliott (@jadeelliotttfs) on

If you could challenge anyone one-on-one, dead or alive, who would it be?

If I could challenge anyone dead or alive it would definitely be the F2 freestylers. They are absolutely amazing and if I ever met them or played against them, it would be my dream come true. I live and breathe for their football as well as my own. 

You’ve mentioned your love of coaching and your goal to be a manager. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring footballer?

My one piece of advice to any women’s footballer or futsal player who is eager to get into the game but the domination of boys playing the sport is putting them off is “don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from the beautiful game.” Generally if you don’t try, you won’t succeed and quitters never win, winners never quit. Start with the basics and take it one step forward.