Read time 6 minutes
Next up in MyLocalPitch’s Humans of Grassroots Sport series is Dean Heffer, Football Coach at Deanos Soccer.
Football has always been a huge part of my life.
I had my left leg amputated from below the knee at eight years old in the 80s after the doctors discovered a cancerous lump which came from a tackle in football at my primary school.
Back then there wasn’t as much openness and acceptance as there is today.
After my operation I went back to school where I still played footy in the playground with my mates, albeit with a little more difficulty. Playing sport was a way of keeping active and ensuring I didn’t move away from my previous life too much.
At 17 years old I met a group of amputees when visiting Roehampton Hospital and we formed a disability team which toured over Europe. We played in Germany, Belgium and Holland in a few tournaments and loved every minute. I’ll never forget my hat-trick in the final!
We even had a game ahead of England v Moldova in front of a packed Wembley. It was an amazing atmosphere to play in before Gazza and crew made it onto the pitch.
Our team was predominantly amputee players, but we’d welcome all disability players as for me it was always about playing. I have a few issues with the number of disability groups like visually impaired, cerebral palsy, autism as I feel we should all play together.
People are quick to put players into groups. For example, I cannot play for England unless I use a crutch and I prefer to use my prosthetic leg. I even like wearing a shin pad on my left leg to give myself more balance during a game.
Organising and running sports has enough issues before we start telling people which disability divisions they can and cannot play in. The more open the categories are, the easier it is for people like me to run sessions and matches. Sport is about bringing people together while keeping players fit and healthy.
All the players I speak with love playing as it gives them a chance to put life’s problems on the touchline. We all have our issues and chasing a ball around, searching for that win gives a welcome release. At the same time it brings people together while helping us all keep healthy.
I run amputee fitness sessions and at times struggled to get more than ten people. My idea was to get as many people involved as possible because fitness is one of the key features.
Having been part of bigger projects over the years, I am now working on my own. I’ve earned my level two coaching badge and my team is made up of mixed disabilities and we’re often up against teams of solely learning disabilities. In 2015 the Parliamentary Panel recognised the work done with a Limb Lost Award.
The Limbless Association and Chelsea DFC have since disbanded citing a lack of funding. These projects tend to get a three year backing before running out of financial support – it’s very frustrating having got sessions off the ground.
Initiatives like the FA People’s Cup are fantastic. It gives players a platform to get involved in football in a fun, but competitive environment. Our last round in the People’s FA Cup saw us win two and draw two, we needed to win our final game and did so 6-2 – I bagged a hat-trick!
These tournaments are a great way to drive exposure for disability football and we need that. Speaking to amputees over the years has taught me that there can be a stigma of playing sport once you’ve lost a limb.
I spent ten minutes with one player to teach him about kicking a ball as there are differences with above the knee swings, in my case I have a restrictive bend. Ten minutes later he was massively into it and now plays footy with his grandkids in the garden.
It bothers me there are not more games available for disability players. There used to be 100 amputees signed up at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and it’s not all about playing football. It’s good for stretching as it builds strength for other sports like tennis. Just some walking and jogging can do wonders for players.
The Limbless Association was a fantastic initiative before it closed because of funding issues. There also used to be disability teams at Tottenham and Chelsea – these have both shut down too.
I run games at the Wandle Centre for anyone keen to find out more and get involved. Wandle’s games enabled me to keep providing a place to play despite the setbacks suffered by the Limbless Association and other teams. I don’t want players not to have the chance I had.
Our Wandle Centre sessions are Fridays between 6pm and 8pm. It’s an open session and costs just £5. There is a Feltham Bees team too and we have a few girls starting to get involved. Sessions are mixed disability for adults and kids and I’m looking to get a Sunday game going too.
Glenn Hoddle presenting me with sporting achievers award for my football work at Dorchester Hotel in London 6th November 1997. It brings tears to my eyes as I was put forward by my father for this and was so happy and proud to win it especially with a Spurs legend presenting it.
My life without sport wouldn’t be the same and even the smallest bit makes a huge difference.
Get in touch if you want to find out how to get involved in any of our disability football opportunities.
Phone 07825212715 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
BY - Will Chrimes
22 March 2018