When amputee footballers take on prosthetists in a series of seven-a-side matches, the truly redemptive power of the game shines through.
Footballers often talk about mutual respect with regard to other players and clubs, but when a game features amputees on one side, and prosthetists – the people who actually make their replacement limbs – on the other, that mutual respect is palpably felt.
You can see it between Londoner Dean Heffer, sports officer for the Limbless Association, a man who lost his leg when he was eight-years-old, and Andrew Rees, a prosthetist working at the Douglas Bader Unit at Queen Mary Hospital in Roehampton.
Sitting in the changing room prior to the game – a game which is being filmed as part of Ford’s Fantastic World of Football - Andrew is fitting out Dean with his prosthetic leg, and a bit of pre-match banter has already begun. "Make sure you put the foot on the right way," says Dean. "No promises," replies Andy, grinning.
James Catchpole, who organizes an amputee team based in north London, and who today plays for the amputees ‘all-star’ side, LA Spurs, sees the forthcoming battle with the Roehampton prosthetists as a win-win.
"In a way, it reflects badly on them if we lose. It will mean they haven’t supplied us with good enough legs."
For all the joking, to see these teams take on each other is a remarkable sight. James, like Dean and the other amputees, wants people to realize just how extraordinary the standard of these players are.
"What we’re doing is quite abnormal, which is showing people that you can play football with one leg and actually be as good if not better than able-bodied opposition."
Michael Ishiguzo is a typical example. He used to be a professional footballer back in Nigeria, and actually lost his leg playing football after a fracture picked up during a game was not properly treated. Yet his evident skill is there for all to see, as he completely sells his opposite number with a dummy and then lays off a defence-splitting pass.
"The quality of football in this team is top notch," he says. "The speed, balance, passing and agility is phenomenal."
Able-bodied Andy Rees agrees: "This is a much tougher game than last year. They’ve improved ten-fold. They were pressing us hard up the pitch and just quicker to every second ball. I'm just glad we managed to win one."
The two teams played three thirty minute games at a staggering pace, the LA Spurs running out 2-0 winners in the first match, 2-1 losers in the second and 2-0 winners in the final game, an emphatic 5-2 on aggregate then.
Amputee football is growing in the UK, with more teams popping up everywhere from East Anglia to Sheffield to Cardiff.
As part of the Limbless Association, Dean is pushing to get the British game in line with the internationally recognized version of amputee football, and from here to establish a Great Britain team. The ultimate goal is to get amputee football recognized as a Paralympic sport, one that was notable by its absence from the 2012 games in Dean’s home city.
Given that today’s matches have revealed an incredibly high standard of skill and commitment, the prospect of international games in the future is a mouth-watering one indeed.
For more information on amputee football, go to http://www.limbless-association.org/sports/la-football/
- Sports & Recreation
- Limbless Association