Team power

Posted on: 21st May 2015

Exciting times ahead for Alastair and his powerchair football team

11-year-old Alastair is a member of Leeds Powerchair Football Club, having started playing the sport 2 years ago. The Leeds club is one of 43 powerchair clubs in the UK and has nearly 20 members aged from 6 to 30+ years old, with a range of disabilities. “Everyone is welcome to play, no matter their age or gender,” says Nigel, Alastair’s father and a wheelchair mechanic for the club. “We have players with cerebral palsy (like Alastair), muscular dystrophy, osteogenesis imperfecta – as long as you’re able to operate a powerchair, you’re able to play.”

Before giving football a go, Alastair had tried out a number of other activities including swimming, shooting and Boccia but none had been right for him. “Either it was too noisy or it didn’t hold his interest,” says Nigel. “But when we went to the powerchair football club for the first time it had a pleasant, friendly atmosphere and Alastair seemed to ease straight into it.”

Powerchair football was an instant hit with Alastair and it helped him to learn how to use his powerchair. At the time, his family were planning on enrolling him on a wheelchair training course; however, after only a short period playing powerchair football, he far exceeded the level expected at the end of the training.

The significant cost of powerchairs, particularly ones designed for sport, is a barrier for some people accessing the sport. Alastair was fortunately eligible to acquire a sports powerchair through funding from Caudwell Children, a charity that provides support services, equipment and therapies for disabled children. For players without their own sports chair, they can use their day chair(fitted with a bumper to protect it from scrapes and knocks) or borrow one of the club’s sports chairs, which have been donated by corporate sponsors.

"The benefits to players are countless – socially and cognitively. I’ve seen players gain so much in terms of confidence, positivity and independence.”

Leeds Powerchair FC consists of a number of teams competing in 2 regional leagues: the Yorkshire League, designed for day powerchairs, and the WFA North East League, for the more serious participants using sports powerchairs. Within the Yorkshire League, the club fields an A-team (Leeds Stripes) and a B-team (Leeds Whites) competing against each other and 2 other local rivals. In the North East League there are 2 divisions: The Leeds Chariots compete against 5 other first division teams, whilst the Leeds Dynamos have 4 rivals in the second division. Alastair has recently joined the Leeds Chariots and boasts a great record of 2 goals, 1 assist and 2 ‘man of the match’ awards in 9 games.

Players are encouraged to move up through the leagues as their confidence and skills improve. However for some it can just be a bit of fun. “People can have as much or as little involvement as they like,” says Nigel, “that goes for families and friends as well as the players.”

Nigel advocates the benefits for carers and parents, as well as the players. “As a parent, it’s nice to talk to other parents about their experiences – to have a support network – and there’s no ego involved there, no shouting from the side-lines.”

“Alastair comes home shattered but he absolutely loves it,” says Nigel. “The benefits to players are countless – socially and cognitively. I’ve seen players gain so much in terms of confidence, positivity and independence.”

Leeds Powerchair FC are in the process of setting up a new league, called the ‘Federation’, with the aim of improving access to the sport and development of players. They plan to purchase 10 new sports chairs per year over a 5 year period, which will be donated to players from existing teams who have shown promise but don’t have the means to purchase their own chair. The club have also just secured sponsorship for 2 new kits (home and away) and are now looking for suitable warehouse space where they can store and maintain the club’s chairs. Training sessions for the mechanics are also needed, to ensure the players have the best technical support during games.

The next fixture in the North East League is at Eston Sports Academy in Middlesbrough on 24th May, when 3-4 games will be played back to back. All spectators are welcome.

Update: Alastair’s team finished second in the NE League Title Championship on 24th May – exceeding all expectations. It was the team’s first time competing at this level but they played brilliantly, winning all 3 of their games and even beating the previously undefeated title champions. Well done to Alastair and his teammates.

Website: www.leedspowerchairfc.co.uk

Facebook: Leeds Powerchair Football Club

Find out more about powerchair football through the Wheelchair Football Association