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Running at full pelt is a dangerous business

Emma Emma | 15:22 UK time, Tuesday, 4 September 2012

David Clarke captain of Britain's Football five-a-side team


As a blind teenager, I sat for countless hours in cold and almost empty stands, while my brother or sister played Gaelic football for the local team. Helped by my ever patient dad - no one else would sit beside me as they found describing the game too annoying - I did my best to follow who had the ball and what they were doing with it and shouted "come on lads!" at roughly the right moments. But I never really invested much energy in understanding the game itself.

During the Paralympics however, the unique sport of blind five-a-side football has grabbed and held my attention.

This might be because, growing up in a house consumed with Gaelic, football is the Paralympic sport I understand best. But my slight obsession with the game has more likely come from the fact that the players are my non-sighted peers. I could, in theory, play blind football.

At GB's matches so far, spectators have respected the rules by staying absolutely silent while the ball was in play. Blind players receive the majority of their information through sound and with a quiet stadium, I have also been able to clearly follow the action.

The ball used is filled with ball-bearings to make it audible. Being able to track its progress up and down the field has been a real novelty. As has listening to the heated communication between players.

Dave Clarke

In blind football, there are four outfield players on each side, who wear black-out eye shades. The goalkeeper is sighted but cannot leave his area and there is also a sighted guide for each team, stationed behind the goal of the opposition. Each of the sighted team members shout instructions to blind players.

At the Paralympics, GB have already played two Spanish sides. It struck me that having a grasp of the oppositions language might create an advantage, something Captain Dave Clarke confirmed after GB's bout with Argentina. Dave told me that now, if he went to Spain on holiday, he wouldn't be able to order food, but would know the words for "left, right, middle and foul". When they play Iran, they won't be so lucky as he admits that he won't understand a word they say.

Blind football has a limitless substitution policy, which means that players can be taken off and reintroduced at will. This sometimes makes a match feel bitty but as a blind spectator, it is easy to understand why the rule stands.

Running at full pelt when blind is a dangerous business and even though players are compelled to shout "Voy!", the Spanish for "I'm here", before tackling, accidents happen and heads collide.

And for a blind player, a bang on the head is a disorientating business. It takes a little while to become fully aware of everything again so it must be useful to give players a break at this point.

Even for someone listening intently to what is happening on the pitch, it is so very hard to stay silent while the ball is in play. But it does make cheering when a goal is scored, that much more rewarding.


  • Comment number 1.

    Watched this game for the first time today and have been totally captivated by the skill in keeping contact with the ball. Uncanny watching the players sensing each others presence. Win or lose, you are all winners.

  • Comment number 2.

    I have been watching the blind five-a-side with fascination and admiration, but is there a reason they are not wearing rugby scrum-caps, or a scaled down version of amateur-boxing's headgear? Given the frequent collisions at speed as you note, and I've seen, it would seem a logical move.
    (Ex-rugby forward, with scrum cap.)


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