Matthew Hunter: “I’m very proud to wear the badge. You’re not just representing yourself but the club and the town as well.”
For Latics fan Matthew Hunter Wigan Athletic Community Trust’s Every Player Counts programme has provided the 31-year old the opportunity to represent the club he has adored all his life.
The initiative – which is funded by the Wembley National Stadium Trust and backed by the EFL Trust – aims to get more people with disabilities involved in football.
Matthew, who has learning disabilities, has been involved with the Community Trust for over ten years through it’s disability football programmes, and has since enjoyed a number of opportunities including represented the club in competitive games against other North West clubs.
Latics have worked with over 60 adults in the past 12 months through the project and Matthew says he loves taking part in the sessions.
“I’ve been very grateful for the sessions because it has given me the opportunity to excel myself. I love taking part and playing in a competitive league where we can win things. “We have great camaraderie and, being around different lads, we can have a laugh. Everyone is supportive of each other whatever their skill level and I think that sums up the Wigan Athletic spirit as a whole.
“I have become a better footballer than I was right at the beginning and the sessions have helped me to learn and become a better player at the same time,” he added.
The Community Trust have also delivered over 200 hours of weekly coaching, with both an adult and junior team representing Latics in the Greater Manchester Ability Counts League, something Matthew takes huge pride in.
He said: “I’ve supported Latics since I was 13 and have seen them play in the Premier League and Europe and also win the FA Cup. I’m very proud to represent my club and wear the badge. You’re not just representing yourself but the club and the town as well. Whether it’s in a game or just in a training session I will go out there and give 100%.”
Following the postponement of sessions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trust supported participants through regular communication and online challenges, which Matthew appreciated during a difficult time for him.
“It was tough during lockdown and one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with. I struggled with it mentally and I lost a close friend to COVID-19 in April too which was really tough,” Matthew explained. “But Joe [who coaches the Every Player Counts sessions] was there for me through having a chat and supporting me through that time. “When sessions returned, I was bouncing. I went back to work in June and that felt normal so when the Monday sessions restarted, I was pleased at work at the thought of going back after five months without it.
“It was a relief to get back and I can’t wait until we start back again. “As someone who supports and plays for Latics, it’s great that the Community Trust are there, not just for me but for the town. “They are a vital part of the community and without them people would really struggle. Even during the pandemic and since March, having them there is vital and has been a big help for the town.”
Following a second lockdown, the programme is set to restart on Monday 7th December with free sessions taking place between 6pm-7pm at Wigan Athletic Academy, Stadium Way.