Ink & A Stick

The ramblings of a man who should know better.

Disability in Football.

One of the very few downsides to the sacking of Andy Gray by Sky last month was that we have had to put up with more of Alan “Human Mogadon” Smith in the commentary box. A massive positive has been the surge of interest in women’s football and women in football in general. For a number of people though it goes further than that. The excellent Dominic Pollard has used the furore as a catalyst for his work on racism in modern football and the media explosion has made me consider as few issues a lot closer to home.

“What do they know? They’ve never played the game.” is a retort that I have heard time and again when footballers want to respond to criticism from members of the media. What the disgruntled ‘star’ means is “they’ve never played professionally”. The majority of people reading this will most probably have played for a school team or the one of the local sides as kids. The ever-increasing five-a-side market means that people can get together after work for a game too although some of the youthful energy might not be as prominent as it once was. At some point or another most of my friends will have participated in a competitive football match. I, on the other hand, haven’t.

I suffer from cerebral palsy. Suffer is too strong a word really. I have had CP my entire life so it isn’t anything I have had to adjust to. I haven’t had to learn how to manage without things. I have a lovely family and I am very pleased with how my life has turned out. Until recently I thought that the only thing I’d missed out on was dancing, (I harbour a not so secret wish to be able to move like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing but that’s for another time). It occurred to me that I had never really been involved in a proper competitive game of football. At school I had turned out for various teams but that was more to do with the fact that I kept turning up for practice and the PE teacher thought “we’d better let the poor sod play in a match”. The games were played around me and whilst I might have pictured myself as a rampaging left-sided dynamo the only touches of the ball I got were accidental. A bit like a 14-year-old Wayne Bridge. Soon after that the lure of sneaky cigarettes and girls, (where the touches were again, purely accidental) took over and my playing career ended.  I do myself a bit of a disservice here. I wasn’t too bad at football. I spent hours in the garden perfecting a Cruyff turn, my version anyway. My biggest problems were, and are, balance and kicking a ball a decent distance. Now, if I were playing against others with CP I’d be a veritable Luka Modric, (a tubby one but let’s take baby steps for now). All I needed to do was to find a few people with CP who fancied a kick about and I could show off my tragically underrated abilities. Unfortunately for me they had already started and to add insult to injury they were much, much better than me.

Ignorance on my part mean I wasn’t aware that cerebral palsy football is a thriving sport with an FA backed England team that has been running for over 10 years. There are over 100 clubs across the UK catering for people with CP and other disabilities. Many of these are linked to professional clubs. Big names like Manchester United and Aston Villa run disabled teams as do smaller clubs like Forest Green Rovers. At international level there are European championships, (where Australia seem to have encroached on another continent’s governing body) a World Cup and the Paralympics. The England CP team recently trained with Heurelho Gomes and Steven Pienaar at Tottenham’s Spurs Lodge training ground. There are a wealth of opportunities for people out there with disabilities who want to play the game and over the next few weeks I will be writing a series of pieces looking at CP football in detail from grass-roots all the way up to the full England team. Whilst I am unlikely to get a call from England coach Lyndon Lynch any time soon there are plenty of people who might and I think it’s about time we took notice of them.

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6 thoughts on “Disability in Football.

  1. An excellent, personal piece here clearly relating to a much wider topic. A topic which, as you say, warrants plenty of attention. I think the more that can be done to broaden perspectives beyond the game at the top the level the better. Football, and indeed sport in general, extends a long way past the perimetre of the pitch on which it is played and acts as a focal point of modern society. If it can therefore be used, knowingly (like here) or unknowingly (as in Andy Grey’s case), to tackle bigger issues than so it should be. I look forward to the next instalment.

  2. Al Suter on said:

    A good idea and something I’d like to hear more about – apart from the professional game every body only plays for the love of the game, surely it doesn’t matter about ability and/or capability. I’d like to add that I’ve known George for over ten years and although he has not played sport in general (although an impressive standing on one leg pitching wedge golf shot with fag hanging out of his mouth still remains one of the most impressive things i have seen) you can never not be impressed by his knowledge of football, cricket and especially boxing. I await your subsequent articles

  3. Hamish Gray on said:

    Excellent stuff Mr Modric – although I always had you down as a Gomes… you would have thrown yourself at a bus (or a Daly Dazzler) if it had a ball on the bumper! I am gutted that we didn’t know about the CP football teams back in the day… first England player to turn up in a Vauxhall Chevette (unless someone tells Rooney it’s a rare brown lamborghini)! Keep writing son – much, much, better than the tosh the papers are serving up these days.

  4. Jo Corrall on said:

    I have just really enjoyed reading your piece on football and found your views really interesting. My son is almost 11 and has had CP since birth. He too like many boys is passionate about football, both playing and watching. He belongs to a great team which is made up mostly of boys with CP and up until recently had been competing in tournaments run by CP Sport, however the FA will now not allow these to take place, their explanation is that it is due to ‘safeguarding’, the teams are made up of several age groups which goes against the FA policy. It seems to me that inclusion unfortunately is still very hit and miss and there continues to be so many barriers for children with disabilities. Its great that you have written about this subject, the more people are made aware of these issues the more people will understand the problems children and adults encounter when trying to take part in sport. I look forward to reading more that you write.

  5. Thank you for comments and kind words. This project started out as an investigation into facilities available for cerebral palsy sufferers who wanted to play football. It’s taken on a whole new life but I am thoroughly enjoying it and hope that it makes people aware of a whole new side of football.

  6. Pingback: Blind Ambition: The Simon Hill Story « twofootedtackle.com

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