Third place in the World Cup finals is a justifiable source of celebration for England’s women and Mark Sampson; an extraordinary progress considering the team’s demolition at the hands of the same opposition, Germany, at Wembley last winter.
But there has been another third-place finish for a national football team from these shores this summer; one you won’t have heard about but which, match for match, goal for goal, is more extraordinary, considering the players who achieved it paid their own way to play a part in it. The team’s first goal is something to behold: a patchwork of diagonal passes before the one-two which allowed striker Jacob Willis to get behind the Russian defence and finish. The team’s head coach, Chris McGinn, worked with Don Howe at Arsenal with a young Cesc Fabregas under his tutelage and there was a little piece of Arsenal in that move, rehearsed to death on the training ground, against the world No 1 team.
The accomplishment belonged to the British Men’s Deaf team, at the European Deaf Football Championships in Germany, and the lack of fanfare is not all that separates them from the squads Gareth Southgate and Sampson have led from this country. McGinn’s players had to raise individually all the money needed to cover the costs of travel and accommodation before competing in the finals, in Hanover. Naturally, five-star hotels haven’t featured – so it’s been costs of £2,000 per man for Germany plus expenses for trips to France and Spain, where they were prepared for the experience of overseas competition. £50,000 all-in. About the equivalent of a good League Two player’s weekly wage.
It’s a high standard of football, which is not surprising since there is a large pool of players to draw from. There are more than 10 million people who are deaf and hard of hearing in the UK. The side has risen to become one of the world’s best under McGinn and team manager Philip Gardner. Their undefeated run to the semis at the Euros included wins over Denmark and the Czech Republic as well as a 2-2 draw against Russia in the group stage, a 4-2 quarter-final triumph over Sweden after twice falling behind, and defeat to Turkey in the semis. But no one seems to offer them a modicum of funding, despite the cash sloshing around the game.
There’s no financial support from the Football Association because Deaf Football GB – and McGinn – have been resolute about this being a Great Britain, rather than England, team. That’s because if the Scots and Welsh split away they won’t be able to sustain a side. Their numbers and infrastructure are not substantial enough. The FA only looks after England.
There’s no support from UK Sport, either, because it provides funding only for teams allied to the Paralympic movement and deaf athletes have never been designated Paralympians. The International Paralympic Committee says it has no mechanisms for drawing in a new disability because it would need to add a new classification for deaf athletes. The only way for a deaf athlete to compete under the Paralympic banner – triggering funding to reach elite level – is by having a separate disability, like the British sprinter Olivia Breen, who has cerebral palsy.
In many ways London’s 2012 Olympics was a disaster for the cause of deaf sportsmen and women. Government funding distributed via UK Sport – £42,000 at the time – was withdrawn to allow greater focus on athletes competing in the Beijing and London Games. That has left the £134,000 Sport England spends to support deaf athletes but UK Deaf Sport has now been told that is at risk because its Sport England designation does not include talent identification, which is what the organisation is getting much of that grant for. By comparison, the Paralympic movement’s budget is currently £50m. It is easy to see why UK Deaf Sport feels lost, stuck in a web of funding gaps. “Deaf participation in sport is low, at 10.8 per cent, compared with disability participation of 18 per cent,” UK Deaf Sport’s Bill Baillie tells me. “We want to improve that.”
A football match between deaf side entails the referee carrying a flag, as well as a whistle. The players are not permitted hearing aids. Communication between goalkeeper and defence can be particularly challenging. “We work on the principle of knowing what you want to do with the ball,” says McGinn. “We work off individuals’ thoughts when they receive the ball – what the thought will be and how others will work off that.”
Their next tournament is next year’s World Cup in Italy, where the British men’s football team will be paying their way again. In this Emergency Budget week the prospect of funding seems remote. Is the notion of some Team GB kit going their way, or some basic expenses, too much to expect? Willis will tell you it was worth the outlay to see that ball he dispatched, settling in the net.
United right to make swift U-turn on treasured Crerand
Paddy Crerand doesn’t want a fuss. He loves the bones of Manchester United and would never openly criticise the club. An intrinsic part of the Old Trafford fabric and an MUTV co-commentator, he was dropped last week from the travelling party for this month’s pre-season tour of the United States, in what seemed to be a desire to move the channel on without him. When the United broadcaster Andy Mitten pointed this out, there was understandable indignation and the club moved quickly to reverse the decision. Crerand is the link between past and present, the life and soul on tour, first to meet and greet the fans. Clubs look for the slicker, sophisticated interfaces with the global world they now occupy. But it is the place they have come from, and men like Crerand, who make them what they are.
Ker-ching along with the singalong for Aussie Fanatics
The self-styled singalong Aussie Fanatics who have charmed crowds at Wimbledon – for the first 10 minutes at least – are not quite the picture of spontaneity they might seem.
Their website, fanatics.com, invites tournament goers to join the “Fanatics sleep-outs” ahead of the all-important Nick Kyrgios, Lleyton Hewitt or Bernard Tomic games. Wearing Fanatics merchandise on these occasions is obligatory, the website states. So they’ll helpfully bring down some kit for you to buy – or you can purchase it from the website. Fanatics singlet or T-shirt: both 30 Australian dollars (£14.50). Fanatics hoodie: A$85 (£41).
“Add to basket” is even part of the vernacular of singing songs for your heroes, it seems.Reuse content