I am stood pitch side on a rather mundane Wednesday evening. The game of football in front of me is taking on the normal form. Two evenly matched sides both striving to impress. Eager supporters watching on. There is a general excitement in the air. A passing and movement combination has just worked to great effect as one team takes the lead. Anybody could be fooled into thinking they were watching a match at the very highest level. The reality however, is quite different.
Instead, I am watching ‘Powerchair Football’. A game taking on the basics of football, but the players are using specially designed wheelchairs and other such equipment. Some can barely move a finger. They have not been beaten by their dreadful disabilities however. When they are on the pitch, they show the same unity, togetherness and spirit that would be seen in any sport across the land.
As I watch I am genuinely bowled over by their skill and determination. Watching also makes me aware of just how powerful sport can be. This game has brought people from diverse backgrounds together in order for them to display their talents and abilities. Without this, where else would they find a platform to express themselves?
Of course, this could not be possible without some very special people. One of whom just happens to be my elder brother Adam, a qualified Wheelchair Football Association Coach. He stands on the pitch providing support and directions to these players as if he were coaching in the Champions League. I had to find out his feelings on working in such a remarkable game with even more remarkable people.
"What I find inspiring is how this sport has no barriers, in which other game could a seventy-year-old and an eight-year-old train on the same pitch?” he said.
“I would love to see this sport recognised at the highest possible level someday.”
The enthusiasm I have developed is suddenly tempered by a dose of realism. This could not occur without specially engineered wheelchairs, highly qualified coaches and suitable pitches. All of these must have a cost. For these reasons I worry about the future of this and other comparable sports.
During the current economic uncertainty, the powers that be may look to tighten their belts financially. I can only hope that the sheer power that this sport enables people with will encourage any doubters that this is a venture worthy of its finance.
Before this night, my only real exposure to Paralympic sports was through the 2012 Games. This spectacle gave Paralympic sports a huge boost, yet I and many others were still unaware of how important they were. Only now, having observed it first hand, can I understand how sports such as this empower those physically and mentally challenged to achieve something wonderful. This is all achieved through the power of sport, which is now stronger than I ever thought.