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A great day for the beautiful game
There is much debate about who coined the phrase the ‘beautiful game’ but everyone who has ever used it – from Pele to Platini – meant pretty much the same thing. Football is a game played by 300 million people across the globe, and enjoyed by millions more. It’s beautiful because it unites people. The teams, communities, and countries too.
The World Blind Football Championship – which kicks off this weekend – will, I hope, be one of the finest examples of the beautiful game. This weekend, ten teams made up of some superb blind footballers from around the globe will arrive in Hereford, ready to kick off the Blind World Cup – played this year in England for the first time in the tournament’s history. They all want to win, of course they do, but they also want to weave some magic on the pitch that will show you, and the rest of the country, that football is not something that just transcends age, social background, religion and race, but disabilities too.
We couldn’t have made this happen without the brilliant team who have pulled this all together. The FA and their tournament directors Logistique have worked tirelessly with the teams, officials, volunteers, tournament partners, legacy supporters, the local community and with The Royal National College for the Blind to create a world class venue for a world class event. It’s been four years in the making and it hasn’t been without its challenging moments. The most recent, of course, was the sad loss of Cameroon who had to drop out last week because of a visa problem beyond the FA’s control. But the organising team rallied, and so did Greece, stepping up to the post to create a strong alternative in their group and ensuring you, the supporters, won’t get anything less than the very best when you come to watch the games next week.
Thank you to everyone in Hereford who has helped us make this tournament something really special. It kicks off just after 2pm on Saturday with a player’s parade and an opening ceremony including the tournament song – aptly named Unite – followed by the first game of the World Cup between England and Spain. The lads know you’re right behind them…
If you haven’t bought your World Cup ticket yet you can buy one( £5 adult day pass, £2 concessions) at thePoint4 or by visiting www.blind2010.com. If you want tickets for one of the cultural events – including An Evening with footballing giants Sir Trevor Brooking and Ray Clemence at The Courtyard next Wednesday – call their box office on 01432 340555.
Posted by Tony Larkin on 09-08-2010
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Football under the spot light
With less than three weeks to go until the opening of the IBSA World Blind Football Championship in Hereford, head coach of the national squad Tony Larkin brings us weekly report from the England camp
I was at The Royal Welsh Show in Llanelwedd with Jon Gribbin, one of the England Squad, doing a blind football demonstration last week when I had a call from Jeremy Vine’s office at BBC Radio 2 asking if I’d comment on the Paddy Power ad. For those of you who haven’t seen this TV commercial, it it’s one of a series of tongue in cheek sports spoof advertisements Paddy Power has run. This one involved a blind football team (including one of our retired players) apparently kicking a cat instead of a blind football (both, obviously, come with bells).
The ad does raise some issues but it has baffled the players why it takes something like this to get the sport into the national mindset when we’re just a few weeks away from a historical first for blind football. Like the ad or not, no one – including the retired players who were featured in that commercial – want to divert attention from blind football at its best; and the fact that in less than four weeks time this country is hosting the Blind World Cup and welcoming the best blind teams from around the globe for the competition.
Once I’d managed up a high enough hill to get a mobile signal in deepest Wales, and chatted to Jeremy Vine he supported that idea too, as did the hundreds of listeners we’ve already heard from as a result of that broadcast.
Meanwhile back at our training ground at the College, the FA brought the Greek Blind Football team over for an international friendly at the weekend. This was a brilliant pre-tournament warm up opportunity for our lads so close to kick off and a great opportunity for local media who hadn’t seen the guys in action before. We beat Greece – who didn’t qualify for this year’s tournament - on both Saturday (1-0) and Sunday (2-1).
We had some other very special guests arrive at the same time. Dozens of children from around the UK came to Hereford this week for a three day Soccer Sight course. This is an initiative launched by the RNIB and now run by the Blind Football Academy at the College to give young people with sight loss the chance to learn how to play football. They were joined – much to their delight – by two of the cast of Hollyoaks - Ashley Taylor Dawson (aka Darren) and Anthony Quinlan (aka Gilly) who wanted to meet the squad and have a go at blind football for a spot on a Channel 4 documentary. Both of them were blown away by what they saw, and tried, and they’ll be back in Hereford to support England in a few weeks.
Elsewhere on the campus some 60 volunteers were enjoying some training of their own in preparation for their work during the tournament. They represented a wonderful cross section of the Herefordshire community and left the day really excited about being a part of the World Cup…
I do hope you are going to be a part of it, too. Tickets are selling fast so visit us at thePoint4 or at www.blind2010.com to reserve a day pass
Posted by Tony Larkin on 27-07-2010
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More than just a team…
There was much debate about Fabio Capello’s choice of team in South Africa. He talked about the need for the right style, spirit, focus, and commitment. Players who could perform to their best of their abilities.
I have exactly the same task in the weeks ahead, with the first England game at the IBSA World Blind Football Championship kicking off on August 14th. This week all the squad will be at the venue for another training session, and they know I am looking for their absolute best, and some.
While I won’t, thankfully, be getting the same media scrutiny as Capello did when it comes to my choice, I will be taking it just as seriously as he did. Our team is ranked fifth in the world and second in Europe at the moment and the guys really want to be picking up that Cup on the final day, August 22nd. Their success so far is not only because of the ‘spirit, style, focus, commitment and ability’ that Capello talked about, but because of their communication skills and dedication to the game, too.
Communication is key because without sight, working as a team and winning a game depends on them communicating with each other, with me (on the touchline) and with the goalie (who is sighted). Their skill in listening to the ball (which rattles) and each other is trained and remarkable. They can position themselves and the ball using echo location from the boards at the side of the pitch. They tune into the voices of their team mates so they can locate and pass to each other swiftly and accurately, and to the voices of the other team who are required by the rules of the game say ‘voy’ as they come in for a tackle.
Dedication is everything because unlike the seniors (or indeed some other blind teams who’ll be competing at the tournament) our players work or study full time in between training and games. Our captain David Clarke who has been blind from birth, fits in his personal training and team sessions around a busy family life (he lives in the SE with his wife and two children), and demanding job as a senior partner in a city bank. And he leads an England squad made up of university students, disability development officers, police staff, property managers and more… each one leaving their own WAGS at home as they head to the gym before and after work, or to training on their precious weekends off.
It’s a real privilege to be the head coach of these players, but a real challenge picking the best from these best of sportsmen. You can be sure those who are in the line up come August 14 will give their all, and some. To come and see for yourself buy your ticket at thePoint4 or visit www.blind2010.com.
The Blind World Cup is being played at thePoint4 at The Royal National College for the Blind from August 14 – August 22nd.
Posted by Tony Larkin on 18-07-2010
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