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Student takeover: Life as a player on the Netherton FC Ability team

In our student takeover, Peterborough College journalism student and keen footballer Darrius Pearson provides an insight into life as a player on the Netherton FC Ability team - a side that supports and develops the skills of those with disabilities. 
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Peterborough College journalism student and keen footballer Darrius Pearson provides an insight into life as a player on the Netherton FC Ability team

Netherton Football Club is a local community-based football club run entirely by volunteers who just have a pure love for the sport. 

The club started as an under-12 team in 1992 when a group of kids didn’t have anywhere to play football. In 1998 it founded the adult’s team because those same kids could no longer play youth football. Netherton serves to provide football to people of all ages still to this day, especially its Ability team. 

I spoke to Dave Jarman regarding the origin of the Ability team. “The Ability group was started in 2009 by Derek Nimmo, then chairman of Netherton United Football Club," he said. 

"Apart from being a good idea, it enabled Netherton to become a Charted Standard Community Club with the FA.” 

The Netherton Ability team is a team under the Netherton Football Club banner exclusively for those with neurological and/or physical disabilities are aged 14 and over. 

It is a very niche team, but to the players, it’s invaluable. 

“My friends were coming here when we first played and I wasn’t really in a team at that point so I thought I’d give it a week or two to test it out and ended up really enjoying it," said Jack, one of Netherton’s veteran players. 

The team does not even play in a league due to the lack of competition in the sport. While there are a couple of places where disability football takes place, such as Hampton FC which also runs inclusive football sessions exclusively for under-16s, there are no actual teams that Netherton Ability can play against locally. The weekly training sessions are the only playing time the players get. 

The players are eager to play games and understand that the lack of game time could be a deterrent for the sport. To put it in the words of Ben: “Why would people come here if all we do is train?” 

The Netherton Ability team is run primarily by four people: Dave Jarman, Julian Harris, Mick Garratt and Helen Busby-Mason. These four people work extremely hard through their love of football to ensure that people with disabilities get the opportunity to play just like any mainstream team, although this can be difficult with the lack of competition. 

Speaking about the coaching staff, Dave said: “After retiring from teaching, I joined in 2016.

"Mick had been helping since before this. Julian joined last year. We are all volunteers because of the love of football at all levels.

"Personally, I missed it during the lockdown. I especially missed watching and supporting Posh to the Championship as a season ticket holder since 1990. I've always enjoyed helping young people participate in the game I love and played at a very ordinary level."

The team provides a huge social boost to those who play, people who otherwise would have very limited contact with other people. It serves as a place where people with disabilities can feel like they belong. 

A lot of people with disabilities would not be able to integrate into a mainstream football team for a multitude of reasons. I myself, as someone with autism actually have experience in a mainstream football team but struggled significantly for the three years that I played. A lot of the social aspects and the hostility of other teams can prove too much of a challenge for people like myself and is ultimately why I stopped playing. Had it not been for the Netherton Ability team, I wouldn’t get to play football at all. 

Other players shared a similar perspective: “When we were younger, we didn’t have a chance to play football for anyone else because of the disability, and then [Netherton] came along and we’ve been here ever since.” 

The three players I spoke to, Ben, Jack, and Matt, all agreed that integration into the mainstream while having a disability had proven a very difficult challenge for them. 

The players like how at Netherton they all get on and understand each other’s disabilities. They also said they enjoyed the challenge that playing football brought them. It encouraged strong team communication which could be difficult., they said. 

Like many people, the players struggled with being unable to play football during the lockdown and Ben made a point of being unable to stay fit: “I didn’t like it because all you could do was go for an hour-a-day exercise and stay at home and be bored when you miss playing football with your friends.” 

 

student1Peterborough College journalism student and keen footballer Darrius Pearson provides an insight into life as a player on the Netherton FC Ability team

The secretary, Helen explained the decision to shut down training due to the pandemic. “With regards to the lockdown it was heartbreaking not to be able to provide our weekly sessions." she said. 

"We know that our players really missed being able to meet. But our overwhelming priority was to keep everybody as safe as we possibly could. We do have people with underlying conditions which made them more clinically vulnerable. It was a really hard decision once we had started playing again and got back into a routine to then suspend them again but in light of the further lockdown, it was ultimately the right decision. 

“One of our players who was working on the frontline by being a security guard at a Peterborough testing site actually made the most generous decision to not attend football at all so as not to put any of the rest of us at risk.” 

When the players were younger the team was able to play more games and participate in tournaments. It has been described as “frustrating” that this is no longer the case. They enjoyed travelling to other places like King’s Lynn and Wisbech to play football against other teams. 

In comparison, mainstream teams typically play a league match every Sunday under normal circumstances. This is not the reality for the Ability team. 

The players believe there are not enough sporting facilities to accommodate those with additional needs. The current Ability team is actually having to turn players away from training because they are full. This shows a clear demand for more teams to take the initiative and start providing this service like Netherton already does. Helen, who manages enquiries and the list of players, said: “It’s not just a case of turning people away - we do have an active and growing waiting list.” 

Dave said: “The Northamptonshire FA organised an Ability league but stopped recently. Hopefully, they will find funding to start up again.” 

Darrius Pearson, 20, is a student at Peterborough College studying L3 Media and Journalism. Darrius is an aspiring talk-show host, like Piers Morgan but less abrasive. To apply for courses at the college, visit: www.peterborough.ac.uk