Don’t laugh, but this summer England could win a football World Cup. The Cerebral Palsy World Cup begins on 16 June and is being held at St George’s Park – the central hub for English Football.
CP football is played by people with cerebral palsy – although the degrees of the condition vary, writes Channel 4 News Sports Reporter Jordan Jarrett-Bryan. The classification system ensures that teams are all equal in terms of the players’ disabilities. This ranges from a 5 to 8 – 8s being those with the least impairments, 5s those with the more severe disabilities.
England have top 10 ranking and ready to improve on a disappointing Paralympics performance back in London three years ago.
Cerebral palsy football, which is referred to as seven-a-side football at the Paralympics, made its debut at the New York 1984 Paralympic Games. But it was Edinburgh who hosted the first international tournament in 1978 before it was introduced at the Paralympics.
The World Cup is obviously a huge competition but, like most disabled sports, it isn’t the pinnacle for the athletes. Being world champion is something this team craves. But a gold at next year’s Paralympic Games, at the home of Football, is the pinnacle for these boys.
Top two teams in the World: Iran and Russia. Current Paralympic champions: Russia.
CP is something is a condition that affects muscle control movement. It is usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during or after birth. But it is possible to get CP in later life.
England CP captain Jack Rutter was the victim of an unprovoked attack outside a nightclub – he hit his head on the floor, developed brain damage and became deaf in one ear.
It was devastating for a man who was just days from signing a professional football contract. But CP football offered Rutter another chance to play the beautiful game and he plans to grab it with both hands.
The coach, Keith Webb, is excited about the prospect of guiding this team to World Cup glory. But he also thinks on a wider scale that the depth of players in this country is good but could be better.
“I think there’s a reluctance from some people to be labelled disabled, because I do think some try to hide it. We’ve found a few players who have come through, we look at and are like ‘Wow, where have you come from?’
“But I think there’s a lot of positive work going on to remove the stigma. We (the FA) feel there a huge amount of players out there eligible for England who, given the chance to see the standard we’re playing at, would love to come and have the chance of playing international football.”
He’s also excited about one of the younger members of his squad, giving him the ultimate compliment: “Ollie Nugent is very young but, in my opinion, he is the Lionel Messi of CP football – and that’s not a statement I say that lightly. Any team in the world would love to have him in it – on his day he can cause bedlam.”