Adam Fine, the mastermind behind Cape Town’s Futbol

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Fives Futbol held their world finals at Century City in Cape Town last weekend, with South Africa winning the competition in both the men’s and women’s categories. The men beat a competitive Colombian team 5-2, while the women needed extra-time to prevail over their Chinese opponents, 3-2.
by LUKE ALFRED | Dec 05, 2019

The mastermind behind the Cape Town finals was Adam Fine, the son of a South African Jew who emigrated to England in 1988. A long-suffering Manchester United fan, Fine studied economics at the University of Nottingham and has been the local operator for Fives Futbol, a five-a-side adaptation of the 11-man game, for the last four years.

“It’s fast-growing,” he says with just a touch of evangelical zeal. “It’s easy to find a quick hour for a five-a-side game rather than, say, taking three hours off in the evening on a weekend afternoon and also having to deal with a long commute.”

Last weekend’s finals featured 24 men’s teams and four in the women’s competition, with seven African competitors in the men’s draw including teams from Morocco, Senegal, Ghana and Mauritius amongst others.

The men’s draw also included teams from Europe, Asia and South America, including France, India and Argentina, which gave the tournament a truly international flavour.

Israel sent a team, but they were beaten by Mexico, who were victorious 6-1 in the quarter-finals.

It was the second year Fives Futbol have held their world finals in the Cape, with the 2018 tournament also being held in the Mother City. China was meant to host last year’s finals but only weeks before the tournament was scheduled to kick-off, the Chinese authorities became stuffy about issuing the requisite hosting permits.

South Africa agreed to host the tournament at short notice.

Qualifying for the finals started at the beginning of the year and featured approximately 150 000 participants in 27 countries. After a team had won domestically for their particular country, they qualified as a national representative for the Cape Town finals.

Fives Futbol is strictly amateur and contains no professional players. A half is 20 minutes long, with the game being played on artificial outdoor surfaces or Astro-turf.

As head of Fives Futbol locally since 2010, Fine is not one of those ivory tower chief executives. He plays his sport about three times a week, and even scored a couple of handy goals – he is coy on the exact number – in last Friday night’s pre-tournament media game between a South African and a European invitation team, with the European team winning 6-4.

As well as proving to be enjoyable, he says actually playing the game gives him insight into the “customer experience”, and, as a result, the product has been tweaked over the years to make it more user-friendly. “We realised, for example, that you could foul as a deliberate strategy and we didn’t like that – it ran counter to the ethos of the game,” he says. “So we tweaked the rules and you can now take direct free kicks after fouls.”

“We’re always looking for ways to make improvements and ways of keeping the ball in play for longer which makes the game more enjoyable and a better spectacle.”

While Fine is satisfied with what transpired last weekend, he’s not resting on his laurels. His aim is to build more pitches outside of the South African metropolitan areas and grow Fives Futbol in far-flung corners of the land. “We’ve built pitches in some absolutely crazy places,” he says. “We’ve built at Clifton [Beach] and on a rooftop in the Cape Town CBD. We’ll be opening at the Maboneng Precinct in Joburg in April, also on a rooftop. It’s really beautiful to play five-a-side football in the Johannesburg CBD.

“Other than that, we built a pitch in Limpopo in October. We’re generally looking for ways to reach rural communities and move further afield. We certainly want to expand on our 52 pitches nationwide in 2020.”

Fives Futbol’s model involves partnering with local landlords and renting land from them close to, say, a rural shopping centre. Once an Astro-turf pitch has been laid, then Fives Futbol employ a local manager to oversee the pitch and handle the playing logistics.

Fine says that they tend to “price discriminate” depending on the wealth of the community which they serve, and you can either enter a team in a league (which lasts ten weeks) or rent the pitch for a nominal fee on a one-off basis. “We employ 50 people full time across the country and about 100 part-time, so we’re bringing employment too,” he says.

With the condition of full-sized pitches and their upkeep by municipalities a constant issue in South African life, Fives Futbol offer a small-scale handy corrective. Johan Cruyff, the former Dutch master, often said that you need only two things to play football – clean boots and a decent pitch to play on. Fives Futbol have provided – and will continue to provide – the kinds of small pitches that help to improve the standard of local soccer, so they’re doing a fine job.

Long may they grow and long may their vision prosper.


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