Disability football across England has received a major boost following the announcement of more than £1m in grants to EFL club community trusts up and down the country. The “Every Player Counts” programme is funded by the Wembley National Stadium Trust and administered by the EFL Trust – working together in an innovative partnership between the charitable side of the country’s most iconic sporting venue and the organisation responsible for overseeing the fantastic work delivered within their local neighbourhoods by the community partners of professional EFL clubs.
The WNST trustees have awarded 23 grants, totalling £1,070,450 over three years, benefitting 25 clubs around England (one grant covers the three clubs in Nottinghamshire). These clubs cover the length and breadth of the country, from Plymouth to Carlisle and Southend to Shrewsbury and are located in a mixture of built-up metropolitan boroughs and more rural locations – all aimed at giving the programme as wide a focus as possible.
Critical to the success of the programme will be the detailed local knowledge that each of the recipient schemes has about its local community. The club trusts were therefore encouraged to bid for funds to address a particular gap in disability football within their area, to be delivered in a way that made the most of their existing skills.
The grants awarded reflect this diversity of need. A number of clubs will be involved in developing new impairment specific projects focusing on for example, autism, mental health, learning disabilities, amputees or powerchair football. Some will be expanding their pan-disability football offer in new locations or with new audiences. Others will be using their skills and experience to support local grassroots community clubs to develop their own in-house disability football capacity.
The over-riding main aim of the scheme is to get more disabled people playing football and breaking down the barriers that have prevented them from doing so. Since the London 2012 Paralympics, we have seen a major increase in the number of disabled people playing sport or wanting to do so. This programme builds on previous work at both WNST and EFL Trust and will continue the expansion of the opportunities available to disabled people to get involved.
It is not a ‘talent pathway’ programme – that is rightly the responsibility of the FA and the other governing bodies overseeing disability football. Of course, if one of the projects discovers a future international or Paralympian, that would be a great achievement. But it is not a required indicator of success. Nevertheless, it is a key consideration for each club, that anyone getting involved in playing through one of these funded projects has a clear exit route to continue their football experience if that is what they want – whether it is just for fun, within a competitive environment or looking for representative honours. It is therefore important that the county FAs and other sports providers are linked into these projects, as well as each club having other opportunities to offer people to play.
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