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England Futsal captain Luke Ballinger received a golden cap in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley.
Ballinger, who holds the record for the most England futsal appearances, caps and goals, received the honour at half-time of England’s friendly against Brazil to mark his century of appearances for the small-sided national side.
The 29 year old has played for England Futsal since 2007, clocking up 60 goals including four hat-tricks, and 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 in Germany last year.
The former Chippenham Town player, who now assists manager Kieran Baggs at Toolstation League Premier Division Melksham Town, said: “It’s an unbelievable honour to be collecting my golden cap at Wembley, the home of English football.
“The thought of stepping out on that pitch in front of 90,000 people is incredible.
“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.”
Ballinger 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 3-14, based in Wiltshire.
He added: “Players need time on the ball to develop and that’s what futsal offers.
“It’s crucial for young players 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”
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 Malyasia, 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,” he said.
“We had two players sent off which made the game even more challenging – the feeling at the end of the game was incredible.”
Ballinger and his England team were even invited to dictator Colonel Gaddafi’s compound as guests in 2009 when England played Libya.
Picture above by UEFA and article by Gazette & Herald