Friday, December 09, 2011

Powerchair Football World Cup in Paris

After a hectic October half term delivering Wheelchair Skills Training (WST) in Doncaster and assisting at the Whizz-Kidz North West inter-ambassador club sports day in Manchester, I should have been having a relaxing holiday… but I had been excited about this week since January when I put my annual leave request in! I was off to Paris to cheer on our National team in the Powerchair Football World Cup! Wooooo hooooooo!!! For those of you who don’t know me well, I love powerchair football!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If I didn’t have a job I’d play all day every day!!!!!! I absolutely LOVE it!!!!

I didn’t discover powerchair football until I was over 30! Until then I’d never before played any team sport, infact the closest I came to sport was playing short mat bowls with a bit of drainpipe at sports day in school! Until I started playing I had never experienced the sudden rush of euphoria I felt when I scored the winning goal in a crucial premiership game! Graduating, getting my first job, house or passing my driving test doesn't compare! Being part of a team within competitive sport is something I have never been able to be part of, before I could only be a spectator. Powerchair football has opened up another world.

Powerchair Football is one of England’s, in fact the world’s, fastest growing sports. The National League is in its fifth year and this was to be only the 2nd World Cup. I was so excited to be going to cheer on 3 of my team mates playing for England! England were drawn in the harder of the 2 groups, having to play current world cup champions USA, as well as Japan who were bronze medallists. England were unseeded!!

It was very odd being in Paris with hundreds of powerchair users. I often holiday in France and have become used to people staring, but this time it was almost the norm to be in a powerchair! We stayed in a lovely hotel which was perfect once we took the toilet door off! It had revolving doors into the entrance of the hotel which I took great pleasure in showing off my skills and timing it just right every time I entered or exited the hotel, I was going to video it to use in WST only somebody had obviously driven into it and smashed one of the panes of glass and I didn’t want anyone to think it was me! Back to the footy…

The opening ceremony and 1st game was on the 1st evening, the venue was packed! Even at the Europeans there are only a handful of spectators so the 2000 at the World Cup, including at least 100 wheelchairs users with pitch side seating, meant the atmosphere was amazing. The group games were played over 2 days, one of the day’s England’s matches were screened live via the internet. My mate text me to tell me she could hear me & Caz – Caz is know nationally as the ‘WOOP WOOP GIRL!!’

England won their first game against Switzerland 16-0, some of the countries had little experience as powerchair football is very new in their countries and this big win was expected. One of the great things about powerchair football is that even those with the most severe disabilities can play and this was very true for one of the Swiss players who played with a ‘sip & puff’ ventilator attached to his powerchair throughout the game. Classification was introduced for the first time during this world cup which means that the game will be preserved for people with severe physical disabilities which is FAB! I should also add here that we revived our bag of vuvuzelas - Caz had been banned from using at our national league so we shared them with some of my other team mates who had travelled from Newcastle to Paris as the World Cup may never be this close again!!

England’s second game was against Japan, a strong contender for lifting the cup. One of the amazing things about the Japanese team was that they were all classified as PF1s! This meant that they didn’t have to worry about who was on the pitch as you MUST have at least two PF1s on the pitch at all times. The Japanese team lived up to the reputation of being technologically advanced with their heating device above their controller to keep their hands warm – something many players in England struggle with! One player had his whole body covered in clear plastic to keep the heat in! Many of the Japanese played in low, reclined powerchairs - it seemed like this gave them an advantage with their fast play and manoeuvrability around the box but really it’s only advantage was to stop the effects of gravity on their body, being seated this low and reclined would only really be a disadvantage in play as it restricts their vision, which just showed how skilful they were. This was a nail biting match and finished 1-1, a very respectable score for unseeded England and now they were going for goal difference and a place in the semi finals was in sight! Keeping with the noise theme, although there weren’t many Japanese supporters, they had plastic bottles with water in which they hit together whilst shouting “NiPon” and got the French school children who were there on a school trip to watch to join in!

The next day’s match was against USA! This turned out to be my favourite match for more than one reason. Today’s games were to be played on Pitch B where there was no tiered seating for spectators, this meant that the whole of the Barmy Army could cheer together!


Everywhere we go-o, EVERYWHERE WE GO-O, people always ask us, PEOPLE ALWAYS ASK US ….’

‘Angleterre, Angle-Angle-terr-er, n n n n n n n n n n naaa …

The match was absolutely amazing! Edge of seat stuff! England scored about 5 minutes from full time against all expectations! England had beaten the previously undefeated World Champions!!!!! This secured England’s place in the semi finals with only Portugal to play, a win would mean England would finish top of the group and play the second place team in the other group. England went on to beat Portugal and gave us the opportunity to get some great goal scoring photos!

The Semi finals were to be played that evening and England were to play Belgium! USA were playing France first, the two teams that played each other in the 2007 world cup final! Powerchair football has been played in France for over 30 years and they were playing on home turf! This was to be a great match. Everybody, apart from the Americans obviously, were cheering for France and willing them to win ‘ALLEZ LES BLEUS!’ Unfortunately it wasn’t to be and not long into the first half France gave away a penalty and USA scored the first goal. The game finished 3-1 to USA.

Next England faced Belgium, this was also played on pitch A and was live streamed, I was very grateful that my powerchair has a riser facility as I still had a great view even though I was in the second row. The game was great to watch and although Englandlooked good (I knew they would win) neither team managed to put the ball in it’s home and score a goal. The game went to extra time and we were preparing ourselves for watching penalties when in the second half of extra time England scored!!!!!! The final whistle went not long after, England were through to the Powerchair Football World Cup Final!


The next day there were no games and so almost everyone descended on central Paris. After our stressful drive around the Peripherique on arrival in Paris, I decided public transport was the way forward and Caz had said that once we had managed to park the car the first time she was not going to drive it again until we left (we had walked to and from the venue each day, great choice of hotel!). Paris’ public transport system’s accessibility had greatly improved since I was last there only 5 years ago! We jumped on a tram and then a bus to the Champs-Élysées! Caz and I really got into the football fan mentality and were excited to bump into one of the England players!!!! In fact, later in the day, we went up the Eiffel Tower with his mum and sister! After a bit of shopping we made our way to the Eiffel Tower to experience this famous land mark in the dark, I was hoping the lift would be less scary if I couldn’t see as far! Every hour the Eiffel Tower twinkled like a Christmas tree, it was beautiful! I had a lovely day in Paris but couldn’t wait for the football to continue the next day.

We arrived at the venue at 9am for the final day’s matches. I was determined to have front row seats for the England V USA final which kicked off at 3pm! I watched each positioning play off meaning by the end of the day I had watched every country play! I love football!! but I did have to restrict fluids so I didn’t lose my front row seat! The final day wasn’t without drama and in the Switzerland V Ireland 9th/10th play off one of the players was tipped over! It happens sometimes. This saw Ireland win their 1stgame and possibly score their 1st goal! Australia beat Portugal to finish 7th in their 1st international competition, I think this is a country to watch. Japan beat Canada to finish 5th, this placing is not a good reflection on their standard of play but, as with all cup competitions, teams don’t always end where you would expect them to. The 3rd/4th play off was France V Belgium. What an amazing atmosphere again in a full venue, us Brits cheered for the French again ‘ALLEZ LES BLEUS!’ I even had a French flag!! France won the game and claimed their well deserved bronze medal.

Next up was England (I’m excited just reliving it now!) and actually I can’t remember much of the game, it’s all an excited blur! USA came out fighting after their defeat in the group stages and unfortunately, after being awarded and scoring a penalty, were one nil up after about ten minutes. The next goal from the USA followed shortly after but England kept fighting. USA scored a 3rd goal in the second half, again England didn’t give in and put the USA under pressure with a near miss at goal. Unfortunately this wasn’t enough and USA had secured their win and retained the world cup. Gutted that England came so close but so proud of what they achieved! 2nd in the World!!!!


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