24th March 2022
An English handball star who began his career in Nottingham has said winning a professional contract to play for one of the world’s best clubs was a “dream come true”.
Francisco Pereira signed to play for German club Füsche Berlin in the Bundesliga and EHF European League - giving him the highest club presence ever of any England or GB player.
Right winger Francisco has spoken about how he achieved it, what it’s like to play in the world’s best handball league - and his future aspirations.
Born and raised in Lisbon, Francisco, now 22, moved to England when he was a teenager and spent most of his career in this country - from Under 18 to senior level.
Having won a glut of awards and titles during his relatively short career, the club from the German capital came calling.
Speaking about his introduction to handball, Francisco said: “I was around five years old, growing up in Portugal. My older brother was already a handball goalkeeper and I remember watching him train. My dad was also a goalkeeper.
“Handball was in the family and I wanted to try it. Soon enough, I fell in love with the sport and was quite good at it.”
Playing for his primary school team, Francisco was soon scouted and called up to Sporting Lisbon’s Academy.
“That was a huge step, going to play for one of the best academies in Portugal. I was very excited.”
Five years later, in 2015, the family made the move to Nottingham for his parents’ work, where he would grow and develop his game to eventually become one of the UK’s brightest talents.
His successes in England included being the Premier League’s top scorer for three years in a row while playing for Nottingham, as well as being awarded male player of the year on two consecutive occasions.
That’s as well as playing for England and Team GB – and achieving great success with the Nottingham Trent University side.
Image credit: Foto Lächler
A player must have lived in a country for at least five years to represent them at international level, and Francisco first represented England in November – in Finland at the World Championship Qualifiers.
“It’s been an amazing roller coaster,” he said.
“Representing England and GB has been really exciting and has given me the chance to get international game time – something I’d always wanted and I’ve lived in this country for a long time now.
“It was a great chance to play at the highest level. Both teams have been developing over the years and they play at a very good level.
“I’m so grateful to everyone at England Handball including Ricardo Vasconcelos - who helped me so much to get me where I am now. His commitment, effort and time taken to help us was incredible. He’s had a big influence.”
In July last year, Berlin came calling – and Francisco said since that moment, things have been “amazing”.
He said: “The first time I played here it was an unbelievable experience. It’s an incredible atmosphere. The Bundesliga is an exciting league similar to the NBA, where any team can beat each other - it doesn’t matter if you’re at the top or the bottom.
“People in Germany love the sport. They are crazy about it - it’s as big as football.
“Playing here is such a career highlight. The level of handball is crazy. Even in training, the intensity is mad. I’ve played in many countries - but nothing compares to this.
“It’s an experience I’ve always dreamt about - every handball player wants to play at the highest level they can.”
But similar to working your way to the highest level of any sport, it’s not always been a smooth ride.
Francisco explained: “It’s easy to say you want to quit when things go wrong, and it’s hard to carry on fighting and pushing through.
“When things don’t go well in training or if you have a bad game, many athletes would be disappointed or lose motivation - but I used those challenges to work even harder and learn from it so I could become better. It takes a lot of determination and dedication to get through it and to be able to continue striving towards your goals.
“I’m so happy with all the hard work I’ve put in and very proud to have got to where I am.”
Francisco said he is “really happy” at the Berlin club, adding: “Let’s just see where this will take me and what the future holds for me.
“I always thought I would reach this level - I have a very positive mindset. I had it in my head that I wanted to reach this level and did everything I could to do that. I never quit and just kept working harder and harder. Dreams can come true!”
So what words of advice would Francisco give to youngsters in the sport?
“Hard work is key in terms of being successful, but also to believe in yourself.
“It’s easy to be pulled down by others and lots will try to do that, but it’s up to you to keep the faith.
“Anyone can do it - it doesn’t matter what level of talent, whether you are tall or short, skinny or big. If you work for it, I believe you will be successful.”
Ricardo Vasconcelos, National Coaching and Workforce Manager at England Handball, said: “The highest club presence ever for a GB player, Francisco is a fine example of a success story who has come through the England Handball Performance Pathway. We are all so proud of him!
“He’s a great inspiration and best possible example to all of our young players coming through the ranks that they too can do great things.”