Futbol. Voetbal. Soccer. Fussball. Football. Known by many names across the globe. It is the beautiful game. This sport is widely known, but only two variations of the sport seem to get any publication. The 11-a-side game that is generally accepted as the standard that other countries live by. The second variation that gets less publication in comparison is the small-sided game, sometimes 5-a side, sometimes 6-a side. The goals are smaller, the pitch is smaller, less effort is normally needed to get through a game. It’s generally for enjoyment, yet I will not be focusing on these two variations of the sport in this article. For this article I have decided to take from my own experiences and talk about Paralympic standard 7 a side football.
So what qualifies me to talk about CP (CP stands for the physical disability known as Cerebral Palsy) 7 a side football? I am a former player of CP 7 a side having originally joined my local team at the age of 12 (which is now unfortunately defunct). I had 3 years of experience in the Feeder League division before one season in the Championship division, before I played a few games for Aston Villa’s CP team, having been drafted in to allow them to fulfill their fixture list, I was and will always be thankful for the opportunity, before I went to college and played one season with their CP team, before their team disbanded. In my 5 years of playing CP football, I’ve had some great experiences, such as playing at Villa Park, as well as the fact that I’ve been able to use most of my knowledge and experiences to talk about the sport itself.
7 a side football is an adaptation of association football for athletes with Cerebral Palsy and other neurological disorders, including stroke and traumatic brain injury. I myself have mild Cerebral Palsy, which I have made a video on explaining how exactly it affects me and that is how I am able to talk about my experiences in order to promote CP Football. The sport is governed by the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CP-ISRA). The sport is played with modified FIFA rules. Among the modifications are a reduced field of play, a reduction in the number of players, elimination of the offside rule, and permission for one-handed throw-ins or pass-ins . Matches consist of two thirty-minute halves, with a fifteen-minute half-time break. Players competing in 7-a-side football are given a sport class based on their level of disability. Eligible classes are:
C5: Athletes with difficulties when walking and running, but not in standing or when kicking the ball.
C6: Athletes with control and co-ordination problems of their upper limbs, especially when running.
C7: Athletes with Hemiplegia. Hemiplegia is a condition that affects one side of the body,”Hemi” being Greek for the word half.
C8: Minimally disabled athletes; they must meet eligibility criteria and have an obvious impairment that has impact on the sport of football.
Teams must field at least one class C5 or C6 player at all times. Due to a recent change in the rules no more than three players of class C8 are permitted to play at the same time which has been raised from the previous one player from class C8 allowed. International competition in 7-a-side football began at the 1978 CP-ISRA International Games in Edinburgh, Scotland. The sport was added to the Summer Paralympic Games at the 1984 Summer Paralympics in New York, and has been played at every Summer Games up until the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo.
Unfortunately as of January 2015,it was announced that CP football would be one of a few select sports across both the Olympic and Paralympic calendars to be removed for the foreseeable future, now I have an issue with this ruling. I have an issue because Cerebral Palsy doesn’t just affect myself, it affects millions of people up and down the UK, in fact it’s Worldwide; now not all people with Cerebral Palsy are into sports, but many are as passionate as me about whatever sport they decide to take up. An example of what I mean, I remember a time when I wanted to get into playing football for a club and I did my research, I wrote to clubs asking for a trial, and time and time again I got the same message “I’m sorry, we are not willing to take you up on your offer due to the fact that we cannot accommodate for you”,time and time again I was rejected and it put me in a bad way, but I remember my friend’s dad had overheard me talking about it and had mentioned he had some contacts at a local CP Football club, so he gave me the details and it all started from there and I’m grateful to him for starting what would give me some great memories. But now, I currently live in an area where there’s no opportunities to get involved in the game and all the opportunities there are, are focused on the Greater London area, I suppose that’s more of a fault of the part of Sport England, in that all the programmes to get even remotely close to the Paralympics start in London; but for all the people hoping to participate in CP Football, due to the actions of the IPC they have lost a sport that has gave hope, opportunities, and me personally it gave me a purpose. What the IPC have essentially done with this ruling, is they’ve destroyed the dreams of millions hoping to represent their country in their chosen sport and it’s a damn shame to see.
In 11 a side football, you have the Premier league ,the football league ,non-league all the way down to regional leagues, but in CP 7 a side; the league structure is limited to regions. So there is a West Midlands league, a Greater London League and so on. The only two leagues that deviate from being regional are the Irish League (For most of these leagues, there are no records on any official league names and some leagues have no records online, or there are records, but the records found are outdated) and the Scotland League. These regional leagues are split into three divisions: Feeder league, for those who are too young to qualify for selection for the two higher tiers, or for those who play for enjoyment; Championship and Premier Division.
Now I shall look at the differences to 11 a side and some similarities. First off there is a lack of funding to 7 a side, well side for Paralympic standard where the athletes are given funding on an individual basis. Similar to most 11 a side Sunday league teams, everything is self-funded from travel to kit to training subscriptions. The pitches that are used are very similar to 5 a side football, just with regular size goals. As mentioned previously other modifications from the 11 a side game include: No off-sides (I personally love the fact that there are no off-sides),a reduction in the amount of players, the ability to have one-handed throw ins or to pass the ball back into play and the reduction of time dedicated to each game, although the standard time for a break as specified above is just an estimation as this can differ depending on time constraints. Due to the lack of first aid trained individuals, there have been constant injuries, although I was rather lucky not to get injured when playing. In terms of the differences between the leagues, in 11 a side, you would have a massive gulf between regional league teams and premier league teams, whereas in CP 7 a-side, you could find yourself playing Stafford one match and Coventry City the next match, as there is a mix of regional and higher level teams in league competition.
From conversing with scouts and players of 7 a side, in order to even be considered for International selection, you would need to be playing for a team in an Ability Counts league (currently covers all the English regional leagues),from where you will be scouted and if you are considered to be good enough to be called up for your International side, you will be entered into a trial period, where you will be monitored against other players from around the country, before possibly being selected for your international side, which will play through qualification tournaments for the Paralympic football tournament at the next Paralympics. I watched the 2012 Paralympic football tournament religiously between school and, while the standard of the football at the Rio Paralympics was great, I remember how good the 2012 tournament final between Russia and Ukraine was. I say this because of the effects of Cerebral Palsy, which can possibly limit mobility; so you would think that because this can put you at a disadvantage in comparison to able-bodied competitors, but at the highest level, the standard is amazing, if you can find it on the internet I would massively recommend watching that final.
Thank you to the guys at Dictate The Game for allowing me to have the opportunity to write about my experiences and allows people to find a new perspective of a sport they probably didn’t know about.