In glorious Medway Sunday morning sunshine, there were smiles all round as the Kent FA’s first Kent Reliance Disability Youth Cup was hailed a tremendous success on a day that doubled as the Kent Disability League End of Season presentations.
The teams representing the under 16 age group were Sheppey United FC, Milton and Fulston FC, Bromley Green FC, Maidstone United FC, Swanscombe Tigers FC and two sides from Charlton Athletic FC – their Deaf squad and the Ability Counts squad. All contested the main competition which saw the teams split into two groups where each side played the others in their group in 10 minute matches – all of which were hugely contested and left those watching at times looking on in wonder as the youngsters produced some tremendous football.
The top two from each group then qualified for knock out football with the top two from each group progressing into the Semi Finals, where the quality of football from what was on show hit new heights.
The Final saw the two group winners – Charlton Athletic Deaf and Bromley Green – meet in a real topsy-turvy encounter after both sides had won their Semi Finals 4-1 against Maidstone United Raiders and Milton and Fulston respectively.
Charlton, inspired by the endless efforts of ‘Player of the Tournament’ Paulo Jorge Chado Estrela, raced into an early lead with two wonderfully well taken goals. The Ashford side though showed just why they had reached the Final of the National FA’s People Cup held in Birmingham at the end of last month and courtesy of their own two sweet strikes levelled to set up the grandstand finish that the competition itself deserved.
And it was to be Charlton who had the last laugh thanks to two late goals – the first a superb lob – to seal the Trophy by a 4-2 score-line.
It left Aaron Maul, the Bromley Green coach, frustrated yet hugely proud of his side’s achievements. He told KSN, “It’s amazing it really is. Yes it’s disappointing to be ten minutes away from winning the tournament, but at the end of the day all of the boys are happy and so then am I! After coming runners up in the Peoples Cup out of some 2,000 teams and to come second to a really good side, I can’t fault any one of my boys – I’m just so proud of them all!”
He went on, “we don’t look at the football as Disability Football at all – I don’t think anyone involved does to be fair. I haven’t got any disabilities myself and the boys are “just” an under sixteen side. Sometimes the level that we’re playing at there isn’t that much of a difference between this and mainstream. But it’s only when you go a bit lower, that the help that the players get is a lot clearer and helps them so much enjoy the game.”
He was in no doubt who the real heroes of the Disability football world are as he told us, “The work that the Chairman of the Kent Disability League and the people who run the League really is incredible and deserves so much credit – it really does. They give up so much time and it gives these kids a chance and that’s what it’s all about and why I like to be part of it. It’s a way that I can put something back into the game and that’s why I love it so very much.”
Another man who loved the events of the morning was one of those who Coach Maul spoke so highly – Kent Disability League Chairman Brian Gray. “What a tremendous morning and we’ve had a good turnout of people supporting the children playing football. The recognition of County support is very important and helps us reach out to more clubs and more people who want to come and play football but they have disabilities so don’t know where to come and play, and to enable us to move forward, the Kent FA have been such a huge help.”
“The children just come on and play football and they don’t care if they win, lose or draw – they come off the pitch smiling, shake hands and they always, always, always say thank you for what you’ve done! We think we’re doing our bit for those in the County who can’t access football or they’ve tried and don’t get picked so they come along to us and they always get a game and at the end as we saw today in our Presentations, EVERYONE gets something and is appreciative of what we do.”
“We started back in 2005 with five teams and today that number is over fifty – Junior and Adult. We’ll get bigger, I’m sure we will especially considering that there are so many incentives available from the county, I have to admit that it is frustrating at times that not more clubs have their own disability teams.”
A fabulous day was ended as we asked Brian for three words to describe what he gets out of running the League. Without hesitation the Chairman said “Enjoyment, fulfilment and,” smiling broadly, “happiness!”.
Match Report by Mike Green, Kent Sports News.
Match Photos by PSP Images.
For more information about Disability Football in Kent, please contact Lauren Cundy (Football Development Officer - Disability) on Lauren.Cundy@KentFA.com