In 2009 I spent a weekend watching a sport being played that, until then, I didn’t know existed. It’s a game that’s played by hundreds of people from all over the country. It’s a sport that takes a great deal of skill and courage to play and if a player is really good they may even get picked to represent their country. The Football Association is the body responsible for it’s the regulation yet, to date, is not regarded worthy of being an Olympic sport. You might go to watch or even play for a football team play in a nearby park on a Saturday or a Sunday knowing that at the other end of the ‘food chain’ there are names like Ronaldo, Beckham or Torres. Yet the game I enjoyed will never replace standard football as the back-page headliner of any newspaper. Indeed, the aforementioned great names of football would have rings dribbled around them by these skilled athletes. The boys and girls, and men and women that I saw competing are at the top of their sport: they are the Rooney’s and Lampards. One of the 18 year old players I met is off to Oxford University soon to study theology having attained the required three A’s at A level. The teams have names like Celtic Storm, Aspire and Northern Thunder. I’ve deliberately avoided using the word disabled as, firstly, it so often proves to be the turn-off button for most folk and, secondly, to describe these players as anything other than fully competent and able would be extremely wrong. These people don’t want your sympathy they want your support! Let me introduce you to Powerchair Football. Any discomfort that I felt wasn’t the fact that these athletes live with with things like muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, it was knowing that it was I that was left with feelings of awe and amazement at their speed of movement and mental agility. They had travelled to Kettering from as far afield as Cornwall and Newcastle, London, Norfolk, Kent and Birmingham. Forget words like disabled, dependent and different and replace them with determination, competitive and commitment. If the word minority was banned in the sporting world, I mean truly banned, then this sport would see a rush of cash from all of the usual and expected sources: genuine and realistic funding instead of the minimal lip service we so often see as a box-ticking exercise in some accountants office. It does cost a lot of money to maintain and keep the Powerchair game on the road (on average £300 per weekend per player). Society says it wants equality, well, lets see the genuine financial evidence. I used to say at the end of every BBC broadcast ‘its been an education’ well, it certainly was and it was great fun too! (Oh, just for the record, I was supporting Celtic Storm).
For further information on Powerchair Football go to http://www.thewfa.org.uk/