Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Lyndon Lynch, world champion learning-disability football manager

'I loved PE, so I decided to teach it'
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The Independent Online

Lyndon Lynch, 54, manages the England Learning Disability football team on a voluntary basis, and is the only England manager to have won a world cup since 1966. He is also director of sport at Leytonstone Business and Enterprise Specialist School, in east London. In 10th place before his appointment, his team were winners at the 2002 Tokyo championships, after which he was awarded the Mussabini Medal (named after Harold Abrahams' coach in the 1924 Olympics). Tomorrow, in Germany, his team plays the first game in defence of its world championship title.

I didn't come across many people with learning disabilities when I was at Gladstone Primary School, in Barry, South Wales. I had an enjoyable time, and the education that I received there carried me through to the Barry Boys Grammar School. I represented the school in football, cricket and athletics. I particularly enjoyed the PE lessons, and that is what made me decide later to teach that particular subject.

I did six O-levels, and then my family moved to Bristol and I went to Speedwell Comprehensive and straight into the sixth form, where there was more independence and responsibility. My brother was a couple of years below me. I did A-levels in technical drawing and geography.

Cardiff College of Education, which is now part of the university, was wonderful, the best three years of my life. I was playing sport most of the time. We had to be physically fit, so I wasn't one of the students in the bar every night - I was more likely to be in the gym.

My first contact with special-needs students was in the Eighties, when I was lecturing at Kingsway College, in central London. I must say that, at first, this was different kind of challenge: having to go over things rather than say them once. Pastoral support came into it more, and making sure that it was a safe environment. But the outcome was the same: I wanted the students to have a sense of achievement. We offered opportunities that they perhaps wouldn't have been able to access normally, such as sailing, canoeing, rock-climbing, trampolining.

I was also working with Jeff Davis, who is now National Disability Football manager at the Football Association. I was manager of Clapton football club and Jeff was my coach. And that is how I got involved with my present work at the FA.

Every member of the England team has a learning disability, an IQ of 75 or below. For me, as manager, it is about reinforcing areas such as tactics and skills, and going over set pieces again and again. I try to be as positive as possible. Some players have had problems in the past because of low self-esteem and react harshly if they make a mistake. Sometimes, situations need to be defused. In training, the players may argue among themselves and I will step in. I need to get close to the players and build up trust. It usually works!

Being in the England team raises young people's self-esteem and confidence. Socially, they improve as well because of the contact with young players from around the world. They have the same kit as the senior squad, with the same sponsor, Umbro. The ages vary: the youngest player - Harry Hunter, the goalkeeper - was 16 when we beat Holland 2-1 in the world cup final, and he's still in the squad. The oldest was around 29, 30.

There's a multi-disability league connected with the FA, and teams are attached to major clubs. In that team, there are deaf people playing alongside people with learning disabilities and amputees. The FA also has a national team of blind players, who are not in the multi-disability league but play all over the world.

Certainly, I think that we have done a lot for learning-disability football in this country, and we compare very favourably with other countries. We're playing Mexico tomorrow: we beat them 4-0 last time, and I'm hoping for the same result again!