Mark Barber and James Bailey took a recent trip over to the Powerhouse Complex in Moss Side to watch Sale United’s Powerchair Football Team in training. Mark even got the chance to switch from his normal powerchair into a sports model and join in with a game.
Avid City fan John Gilmore who coaches the team invited us along. His son Matthew has a condition called Muscular Dystrophy which means he needs to use a powerchair to get around. Before joining the team Matthew showed very little interest in football as it was a game he always felt he would never be able to play. He was also very reclusive with few friends to mix with. John received a flyer advertising Sale United and took him along to take a look. Very soon he was actively joining in and now not only looks forward to his training and tournaments but also shows a keen interest in watching City on the TV. His confidence is much improved and he has a strong circle of friends amongst his team mates. This is why John has now taken on a coaching role as he wants to help many more powerchair users to enjoy the sport along with Stewart Hamer who set up the team in 2008.
We joined the team as they were doing their ball control training, poles were set out and the players took turns to dribble the ball round the obstacles. It felt like a good time to find out more about the club so we went in to the kitchen and spoke with many of the parents.
The first question we asked was just how expensive a hobby is it? “Cheap as Chips” came the reply, which really shocked us. The chairs are funded by charities, it’s not easy money but the determination of the parents made sure the money was raised. They charge £2 to play and 50p for a brew. What they forgot to tell us was that tournaments are played in either Bolton or Birmingham and they are spread out all over Manchester, so just coming together costs time and money for fuel. One mother realised that every week she was collecting her son from school at 2:30pm, getting him to Moss Side for 5pm where he would be for 2 hours and then get home for around 7:30pm, 5 Hours of her day lost every Thursday without really noticing. But is it worth it? We asked “Oh yes” came the reply from all the parents, “The kids love it, it’s all they talk about all week and we get to socialise with each other whilst they are playing.”
Every parent we spoke to had stories of children low in confidence, no interest in football, with few friends, now transformed to being far more confident, sociable and having a real interest in sport.
If you have never used a powerchair you won’t realise just how difficult they can be too control. The joy stick steering control is very sensitive, so at speed you need to really be in control of the chair especially on a small pitch with other players. The kids quickly adapt though we are told, if they have not used a powerchair before they are taught how to get around in it long before a ball is introduced. Being a powerchair user of 3 years, including negotiating Marks and Spencers on a Saturday afternoon, even if it does involve exiting the knickers and bra section with a 42DD wrapped round my head due to lack of space, I felt I had this area of training covered.
We then tried to work out the rules of the game. There seem to be far more than in a standard game of football, but it was agreed that they were essential to ensure the game was safe. The rule book on the official site runs to 47 pages, so I wont bore you with them all, but they include a foul being awarded for 2 defenders targeting 1 attacker, not being allowed to ram other players and restrictions on the number of player allowed in the goal area. Penalties can be awarded and yellow and red cards are also shown.
One mother was surprised to find out her son had cost the club a fine the previous week picking up a card in his last game; he mustn’t have mentioned it on the journey home. Disabled sons are clearly no different to any other sons.
“Not easy is it, that’s my son there. It took him time to adapt, but look at him now.”
Players come from all ages with the youngest in the group aged just 5 and the oldest 21, girls are just as welcome as boys and if you don’t have a suitable powerchair, there are chairs available to borrow. The great beauty of the sport is that all players can play at an equal level as strength or age is not important.
After having a cup of tea we went back through to the sports hall to watch a game being played. Teams were chosen, bibs issued and the game started. There were too many players so each team had a sub. The rules allow unlimited changes, so for this game the sub would be off the pitch for 5 minutes, before swapping with another player. None of them liked being out of the game and used various tactics, from singing really badly to constantly asking “Have I been off for 5 minutes yet?”to try and get the coach to send them back on. I managed to use this time to chat with many of the players. None of them have super model girl friends just yet, but they do have impressive wheels. One told me his front room looks like a garage with his 3 power chairs stored in there…
All of them enjoy the sport and the way it brings them together, but whenever I asked “How many tournaments have you won?” they were not able to answer; it was far more about the taking part than the winning, such a great attitude, but then many were United fans, so you can understand how they easily forget recent losses to local rivals.
After watching for a while I was asked if I wanted to join in. Without hesitation I switched to a sports chair, did my warm up routine, got the coach to show me various drawings of a football pitch and then took up my position on the pitch for my debut. I decided to take up a position up front as it is always the goal scorer who gets all the praise. For 10 minutes, I chased, spun, dodged and turned, but never got near the ball, the other players were just too good for me. The control they had was remarkable and every time they beat me they enjoyed letting me know, so the super sub who thought he was going to show them how it was done, left the pitch, subbed to allow a better player to win the game. It was great fun though..
I took up my position at the side again with parents coming up to me saying “Not easy is it, that’s my son there. It took him time to adapt, but look at him now. He loves it and has so many new friends, he is a totally different person from before he started playing. He even plays football on the x-box now which he was never interested in before”
Everyone at the club wants to spread the message wide as they want as many powerchair users as possible involved in the game. If more teams can be created locally they will be able to have more competitive games with less travelling needed and far more disabled children can discover there is a sport out there that they can play.
Sale United are looking to hold a taster day on Wednesday 11th April at the Powerhouse Centre, 140 Raby Street, Moss Side M14 4SL. To find out more about the sport e-mail Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org