Paralympic GB football team's full-time dream

  • 21 August 2012
  • From the section England
Media captionBlind Paralympian Robin Williams, from Exeter, said football had shaped his life

Players in the Paralympic GB 5-a-side football squad have said they hope the 2012 Games will raise the profile of the sport and lead to a full-time team.

Robin Williams, from Exeter, Devon, has had to juggle his career with football.

The 24-year-old, who is doing a PhD in Maths and Statistics, said: "If we do well in London then I can see the sport picking up and then potentially having the opportunity to go full-time."

Played by visually impaired athletes using a ball with a noise-making device inside, Mr Williams said there were only two teams out of eight taking part in the Paralympic 5-a-side competition who were not full-time.

"We get a minimal amount of funding, just enough to pay the bus fare, aside from that there is nothing," he said.

"At the Paralympics there's only us and Turkey who aren't full-time... If we can do well at London then we might get more."

Mr Williams lost his sight after suffering Retinoblastoma - cancer of the retina - when he was two.

His sporting career started with swimming, in which he got to an international level, but at 15 he gave up and later tried football after he saw England receive "a complete hammering" in the 2006 World Cup for the Blind.

Mr Williams said: "I went into the England squad in 2009 but missed out on selection for the European Championships and that bugged me quite a lot and I made it my goal to make the World Cup squad in 2010, which I did, although I spent most of it sat on the bench."

In January the 24-year-old decided to focus on football so he opted to go part-time with his PhD.

"I went part-time to take a bit of the pressure off," he said.

"I had to take a 50% wage cut and a PhD doesn't pay much anyway - it's just enough for rent and food."

Dan James has also had to take a wage cut from Devon and Cornwall Police, where he is a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO), in order to compete internationally.

The 25-year-old, who used to be on the books of Exeter City, is the team's goalkeeper - a position that is held by a sighted and able-bodied player.

Mr James played through the ranks of the Devon club from the age of 11, but was dropped at 18 when the team was relegated.

He said the sport had given him a new take on the game.

Mr James is hopeful the Games will attract support and possibly funding for the Paralympic team.

He said: "On our day we could beat anyone... I'd say we're the best amateur team in the world."

The Football Association has set the team, who have their first match on 31 August, the target of getting a medal at the Games, but the team have their own target which is to get gold.

Mr Williams said: "We need to try using the Olympic Games as motivation.

"There were plenty of people who won medals there who, on paper, wouldn't have done so, so we've got to make sure we go there and do that and Brazil are the team to beat."

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