November 23rd saw the start of National Powerchair Football Week, now I must admit I was slow on the uptake with this. That surprises me... A lot!
It surprises me for two reasons. The first being my love of football and absolutely everything about it, in every respect.
Secondly because I'm a realist, I know my body’s destiny. I live with Limb GirdleMuscular Dystrophy, a progressive condition that deteriorates my muscles and the ability to use them. This isn’t to sound bleak; It’s just that I find it easier to adjust things in early stages rather than be overcome by a physical change.
With that in my mind, over a very short period of time I realised that powerchair football could be an opportunity for me. I decided to enquire about the game and pondered going to a local team and trying to get an insight into it and its heritage.
It didn't quite work out that way.
I tweeted the governing body (WFA) asking where my local club is and immediately got a response with a very helpful link to ALL the clubs in England. I then decided to get in touch with Alun Watson, player/manager of the MK Dons SET FC, Milton Keynes’ powerchair football club. Alun was extremely accommodating and replied with “fancy having a go Martin? Get down here Saturday and we’ll have a chair ready for you”
This was a bit of a shock to me, like I mentioned earlier, I have a progressive condition and at the minute I do not rely on a powerchair to get about. I’m still able to walk (just) and the idea of getting in a chair, for me, was a bit daunting. Within five minutes of arriving in Milton Keynes Alun had me in a chair and my 7 year daughter, Olivia was watching from the side-lines.
I thought it was important that Olivia came along too as she has a massive interest in all sports, especially football. She has been watching football from a young age and I wanted her opinion afterwards. I don’t need to tell you how brutally honest children can be!
So here we are, myself and about 11 other people in a sports hall in powerchairs. In at the deep end! Firstly Alun gets me used to the chair and asks me to run the line to get used to speed and movement. These things have five speeds and they are rapid! Then when I was used to that, Alun had me slaloming through some cones and told me that soon we would introduce a ball.
I must also add that whilst all this was going on Alun was explaining rules and also telling stories of some the players and their playing traits. The players were a vast array of ages and totally different conditions. Alun, like me, has LGMD and also has a massive interest in the beautiful game. (It’s quite easy to see how we immediately clicked.) He goes on to tell me about one of the players called Ross. Ross is 17 years old and has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and it’s at this point that Ross’s mum (Marie) comes over to where I’m practising. I start to ask her about the sport and what Ross thinks of it. “It’s fantastic and has changed Ross’s life; he looks forward to it all week, every week” Music to my ears!
So training is done and apparently I’m ready to get involved with a game!
Its 4-a-side and we have 20 minutes left, I simply cannot explain how this feels, I’m on a pitch and I’m in a team… playing football, I haven’t done this for 22years! Initially I’m riddled with frustration, I cannot operate the chair fast enough and with the precision I desire.
Then near the end I pick up the ball in front of what I call the ‘Bull bars’, big bumper things at front of the chair that help gain control and protect the chair/occupant. I’m in my own half and all that’s in front of me is the opposition so I go straight to make my way
the players and (luckily) everything is going my way, controlling the ball past
others with a lucky deflection of an opposing player back to me and I can see
the goal now, Surely not! I keep going and with what feels like a slight right
turn I score a goal! 1-0!!!
|Myself,Ross and the main man Alun.|
We went on to win 2-0.
Again, this is simply indescribable, It feels exactly the same as being 17 years old and scoring on grass, anyone who has ever scored ANY goal will know that feeling, Immense!
At the end we pack everything away and I cannot thank Alun and the team enough. It was simply fantastic and Alun is a credit to the game, a very good ambassador.
Will I go back and do it again? Without a doubt, I wish I’d have heard about it sooner.
To finish I would like to tell you about what I consider the best bit… As we got in the car Olivia said “Daddy I’ve never seen you play football until today and the first time I saw you, you scored and that made me proud in my heart and made my belly feel funny” … I did warn you about how brutally honest children can be and that just made my year!
If you’d like to get involved then get in touch with the WFA here… http://www.thewfa.org.uk/
I highly recommend it!