Saints Foundation ambassador Martin Sinclair was at St Mary’s Stadium to support the launch event for the charity’s new pan-disability pilot league this week.
A total of 30 teams, ranging from under-12s and under-16s through to adults, were involved in the day, which gave them the rare opportunity to play on the St Mary’s pitch.
The event was the culmination of Saints Foundation’s work with five local clubs – Eastleigh, Sholing, Littleton, Fawley Falcons and St Francis – to develop their own disabled teams.
The aim is to build on the enthusiasm shown and develop a fully-fledged league suitable for all participants, to launch in September or October, while encouraging more teams to join.
Sinclair, who played for Great Britain’s cerebral palsy team at the London 2012 Paralympics, has been supporting the charity’s efforts in his new role as ambassador for the Foundation’s SaintsAbility+ programme, which offers regular sporting opportunities for young people and adults with physical and cognitive impairments.
He feels the new league would fill a big gap in the local community and the county as a whole.
“It could do wonders with what they want to do in life, their confidence and self-belief,” he said. “They can achieve anything they want to achieve, just with a bit more guidance and a bit more help from the Saints Foundation, and hopefully we can do that.
“That's what sport gives you and what football does to you. It brings people together and brings their confidence up and their self-belief that they can achieve something with a disability.
“It's been a great turnout and hopefully we can go on to get more people involved, but this is a platform for everyone to build on and hopefully we can do that in the next coming weeks and September as well.
“Seeing the smiles on the people's faces is amazing. At the end of the day, it's about showcasing their ability, not their disability.”
SaintsAbility+ Project Officer Rob Pearce explained that the Foundation is excited about providing greater opportunities for people with disabilities to play football.
“At the moment, there's not a lot happening across Hampshire in terms of getting people playing and just enjoying their football,” he said. “This is all about just getting people playing, and the idea from here is to take it on, have that enjoyment, go and train with your club and then ideally the plan would be to start a league in September or October time.
“Some of these guys here have never played football before. We've run taster sessions and there's been parents crying and been so emotional because their child has actually been able to play football and it means so much to the guys here to be able to come to the stadium to be able to play their football where the professional players play. It's fantastic.
“That's the nice part of the job is seeing people who thought they could never play football, for whatever reasons, and from the Foundation's point of view we reduce those barriers and, whatever barriers are in place, we make sure they can play.”
More information for those interested in participating can be obtained from Rob Pearce, via [email protected] or by calling 0845 688 9370.