Think you know your football? Well, how much do you know about para and disability football?
The mainstream stars might grab the headlines, but the beautiful game is full of talent and tales at all levels.
Be it Powerchair warriors, amputee teams, the visually impaired, or those playing with cerebral palsy, football is presenting more opportunities for more of us to play than ever before.
BT is here to help. Committed to changing the lives of millions across the UK through football and technology, it is investing not only in the men’s and women’s teams, but also the para and disability squads.
In line with International Day of People with Disabilities on 3rd December, BT are on a mission to transform the profile and understanding of para and disability football in the UK raising awareness, increasing support and inspiring future talent. You can join them and show your support by using #DiscoverDisabilityFootball.
There are 17 different national para and disability teams playing across the four home nations. To celebrate this and help people #DiscoverDisabilityFootball, we’re revealing 17 things you might not know about disability football.
Ready to kick-off? Here we go…
1. Powerchair football (above) is four-aside played on an indoor pitch over two halves of 20mins with a much larger ball than your regular Size 5. The goalposts are 6m apart and don’t need a crossbar because the players take a leaf from Pep Guardiola’s book – and keep the ball on the deck!
2. Former Liverpool, Swansea City star and Wales international Joe Allen isn’t the only footballing international in his family. His older brother, Harry, lost his hearing after contracting meningitis as a three-year-old, but has gone on to star for the Wales Deaf Futsal team. Joe has become an ambassador for Action on Hearing Loss Cymru and even attributes some of his own success to his sibling, saying: “When we were younger, Harry was actually a much better footballer than me. I think it was playing with him that really helped me in my career.”
3. Sticking with family connections, while Nicki Paterson has played professionally for Clyde, East Fife and Stenhousemuir, brother Jonathan is one of the most decorated footballers with cerebral palsy in history. He’s represented Team GB in three Paralympics and is Scotland’s record cap holder and goal scorer.
4. Charlie Fogarty (above right) was an academy player at Birmingham City before a serious traffic accident resulted in a brain injury. He’s fought back to be an international player on Northern Ireland’s cerebral palsy squad. Awarded an MBE in 2019 he now visits Premier League and EFL teams to share his motivational story with their academy players.
5. Last year the Scottish FA created Scottish Para-Football – the world’s first Affiliated National Association dedicated to people living with a disability. Aileen Campbell, now the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, said: “Scotland is leading the way globally in creating pathways for people to participate in football and fulfil their potential.”
6. Unlike the usual four years between major football tournaments, the men’s partially sighted futsal World Championship is held every two years. Ukraine have won the past three editions, defeating England in the 2017 and 2019 finals.
7. Belfast’s David Doherty (above) was a player at the first disability club set up by the Irish FA in 2003. Now a coach he’s recently helped set up (and even came up with the name for) the disability section of Greenisland FC – the Greenisland Bears. David says: “From the first session we could see the positive impact it had on the kids. They were running around, kicking footballs and just having great fun!”
8. 4-3-3 isn’t just a tried and trusted formation used by your favourite Premier League teams. It’s also the name of BT’s new sponsorship strategy for football in the UK – namely FOUR home nations, THREE key areas to support (including disability football) and THREE commitments to make a meaningful difference, by improving skills, raising profiles and enabling innovation.
9. In blind football, teams are permitted to concede five fouls per half. Anymore and a penalty is awarded. Imagine that law being introduced to the Premier League…
10. Blind footballers also have to shout ‘VOY!’ before making a tackle, so the player in possession is aware. Spectators are asked to stay quiet so the players can hear the rattle of the ball and verbal instructions from coaches and sighted guides.
11. When the inspirational Rebecca Sellar from Motherwell made her debut for the Scotland amputee team in 2017, she was only female on the squad. The multi-talented 28-year-old is also a tennis international and professional tennis coach. She says: “Football helped me become more resilient, happier, and determined to overcome challenges.”
12. The Ray Kennedy Cup is an international football tournament held annually in Copenhagen for players with Parkinson’s. The competition is named after former Liverpool hero and three-time European Cup winner, Ray Kennedy, who was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s in 1984 at the age of just 33. The 2017 competition also saw a women’s team take part for the first time.
13. Roll-ins are as acceptable as throw-ins in cerebral palsy (CP) football (above). It’s played seven versus seven and there are also no offsides.
14. A fulltime disability football development officer has been employed by the Irish FA since 1995. To date over 1,000 coaches have successfully completed disability specific coach education courses in Northern Ireland.
15. Newly-appointed head coach of the England partially sighted futsal team Steve Daley (pictured above with the England squad) made his international debut in 1995 and played for 24 years, bowing out in the World Cup final. Next spring he’ll be collecting an MBE for services to disability sport, one of only a handful of footballers in the New Year’s Honours list alongside the likes of Manchester United ’s Marcus Rashford.
16. A series of inspiring documentaries on para and disability football will hit our screens in 2021. Aired on BT Sport, the first film will focus on the gripping stories behind the England blind men’s football team.
17. Deaf football is played in the familiar 11-aside format with no changes needed to the pitch size or duration. However, referees must raise a flag as well as blowing the whistle to give a visual clue that the game should be stopped.