Football is the nation’s most popular sport so it is no surprise that disabled football is one of the fastest-growing disabled sports.
5-a-side football is played by visually impaired and blind athletes and involves a special ball that produces noise. The 5-a-side game was first included in the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004. The team is comprised of 4 blind contestants and one visually impaired goalkeeper, there are no sidelines and subsequently no throw-ins, so the game is continuous and fast-paced. All the players wear eye masks, to ensure that they are equal. The game lasts for 25 minutes each half, with a ten minute half-time break. The players are guided by the sound of the ball and there are also guides behind the goals, who help players to direct their shots.
7-a-side football has been around for longer than the 5-a-side game – the sport was first introduced to the Paralympic games programme back in 1984. The 7-a-side game is played by players with cerebral palsy, where the teams are made up of athletes with varying levels of disability. The rules of the game are different to traditional football; the pitch is smaller, there are only 7 players on each team and there is no offside rule. The games last for 30 minutes per half, with a break for half-time. Like traditional football, disabled football is a fast-paced, exciting and fun sport to play and watch.
There are many local clubs and teams across the country. To find a local team or find out more about playing either 5-a-side or 7-a-side football, you can contact the Football Association or consult the Disability Football Club Directory. Disabled football is a very accessible sport, and can be played by men and women, as well as children.
In 2001 the FA produced a Football Development Strategy to promote football for all. The organisation, in conjunction with the government, was keen to promote inclusive sport and encourage as many people as possible to get involved in football. In 2004 the FA launched the Disability Football Strategy, the first major step towards integrating disabled football into mainstream football. Work has continued and more people are getting involved in disabled football than ever before.