More Smiles than a Champions League final: Penzance Disability Football

According to the FA, there is an estimated 17,300 disabled footballers in the country. To accommodate these players, around 1700 clubs have been set up to ensure that they can enjoy the world’s most popular sport.

Last year, I made the trip to Camborne, Cornwall, to report on the county’s first ever People’s Cup – a tournament open to local teams of all genders, and those with disabilities. It shows that Cornwall is doing well to cater for those with disabilities and learning difficulties.

While at Camborne, I experienced this first hand. I recorded footage of a number of teams, including Penzance Disability Football who have just been awarded £1000 for their efforts geared towards local disabled players.

Penzance Disability Football was formed in 2011, and describe themselves as a side who cater to players with various disabilities. From what I saw when I attended this prize giving on the 28th of November, they are doing a wonderful job – even helping players achieve longstanding dreams of silverware.

“It helped me when it started four years ago,” said Neil. “It [the club] has helped me improve. The first year we won a trophy… they played the Chelsea music when I scored my first goal!” he said.

An older player, Neil represented himself at the Special Olympics in August of last year. His side finished fourth, and to him, football means the world. He implies he would need something to take his mind off mainstream game, considering the poor form of his beloved Plymouth Argyle.

“Football makes me relaxed,” he said. “I know sometimes you can have a hard time, when the manager gives you a handful!” he says, cheekily. “It’s fantastic, it gives you exercise and keeps me fit; it’s a really good physical activity.”

In modern football, there is a big focus on winning and silverware. Neil insists that this isn’t the case for him. When asked about his goals, he was outstandingly humble and modest. “I was want to do my best,” he said. “If I can’t win anymore, I’m not giving up!”

The role of the players isn’t just to represent their team. Neil often visits schools to encourage younger players to join the team and Harry, a youngster who enjoys his time as a goal scoring defender, thanks the club for helping him to make new friends and grow in confidence. Still evidently a quiet character, his Nan assures me the club has worked wonders for her grandson.

“There’s been a huge change,” she said. “His self-esteem was so low. He was having problems at school, not mixing. We joined here and he’s just changed. Peter [a coach at the club] is wonderful with them. He understands and just helps them… He’s made lots of friends, and it’s just changed him.”

The club’s management do not understate how important this money could be to the club. Logan, a coach who has a disability himself, said: “It’ll really help with equipment and the kit. If we get a chance we can also go further out of Cornwall for tournaments.”

Logan makes it clear the club can help people with disabilities get into many different roles, including management. “I can just join in, and be a player and a coach,” he said.

His brother Adrian is also a coach at the club, and notes the importance of disability football for the club’s members, but is weary of small number of teams dotted around the county.

“We have monthly tournaments with teams visiting from St. Austell and St. Agnes, but unfortunately there just aren’t enough teams,” Adrian said. “Ideally we want to start up more teams so they also meet all these different players, become friends and have a good time.”

Mike Burroughs is chairman of the Disability side, and explains to me that the money will not solely be spent on the first team. The youth team, for example, have used hand-me-down kits since the club’s conception. Disability coaching courses will also be a funding-focus.

“The main reason I do it and the ethos of our group is enjoyment. People with learning disabilities have difficulty in making friends. Having peer groups and enjoyment allows them mix with their peers on a regular basis, and they socialise outside of the club,” he said.

There is no doubting that these sentiments ring true when feeling the atmosphere of the club’s training session. In a sea of smiles, players happily joked with each other, tried to put each other off during penalty a shootout and celebrated like they’d won the Premier League together when one member launched a half volley into the top right-hand-corner of the goal.

Hopefully the money will go to good use, ensuring disability football in Cornwall strengthens for many years to come.