England to host Cerebral Palsy World Cup at St George's Park
Has there ever been a more exciting time for cerebral palsy footballers in England?
Not only has St George's Park been chosen to host the Cerebral Palsy World Cup in 2015, but the FA are also hunting for new talent as they seek to assemble a squad to improve on their 10th place finish in 2011.
Having Jack Rutter and Martin Sinclair in their ranks certainly helps.
Rutter is the team's captain, and looked well set to become a Premier League professional with Birmingham City before an unprovoked attack in 2009 left him with a brain injury. He was 18 at the time.
Martin, meanwhile, is the older brother of Manchester City winger Scott Sinclair, and their younger brother Jake is in Southampton's Academy.
The opportunity to play CP football gave Rutter what he calls "a second chance", and both players are full of pride at representing their country.
"My England debut was in the Intercontinental Cup against Russia," says Rutter. "I never thought I would get the feeling like I had when I was at Birmingham again."
He is also full of encouragement for other potential international CP footballers.
"Go for it," says Rutter. "You definitely won't regret it. [The squad] all have our own stories to tell about how we got here, and I'm no different."
Sinclair was given his chance after helping Ian Holloway set up training sessions for Plymouth Argyle's community programme while Scott was playing there. Martin found out there was a disabled side and then got spotted for England.
The rest is history, and Sinclair says that his career highlight to date was playing in front of massive crowds at the London 2012 Paralympics.
"It was incredible and bit surreal to be honest," he says.
The FA insists that hosting the 2015 CP World Cup gives it greater focus in order to promote disabled football and stimulate greater participation.
They say that an improved network that provides more chances to play, and a clearer pathway to England's disability teams, has developed in recent years.
Jeff Davis, the national football development manager for disability, is adamant that for anyone who wants to start playing disability football, it is relatively easy to find opportunities close to home.
"The first port of call should be your local county FA," he says.
"If you'd like to play and have got a chance you can get in contact via email via firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll come along or one our regional scouts will to set up a local trial to really see what you are made of.
"The network for young CP players has really changed.
"Where they really struggled to get some kind of football opportunity within mainstream education, we now have eight regional centres of excellence for 12-16 year olds. This gives people the chance to get the best coaching in the best environments.
"We also have skill centres around the country for five-11 year olds, which really look to promote and develop disabled players as well - there's a real structure now to allow disabled players to have a really good chance to play."
Former England senior team international Gareth Southgate, who now manages the Under-21 team, says that having all 24 England representative teams in one place makes a real difference.
"St George's Park is an inspirational venue for us, across all our national teams," he says.
"It's good for disability teams to be where the senior teams are. We all aspire to be elite. We can all interact here. It feels like a home."
Davis adds: "We really want to make sure we inspire the young CP players and show them there is an England team for them. If they really work hard, they could be playing here for this England team.
"What we're trying to say to people is that the World Cup is here in 2015 - and you might be able to play."
The 2015 World Cup is also vitally important to England because a top-eight finish will guarantee a place for Team GB at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janiero.
"I want to captain a GB team in the Paralympics in Rio in 2016 - that's the dream," says Rutter.
With a bit of luck, that dream could become a reality for other CP players who have never before thought about pulling on a Three Lions shirt.
England's CP team face the Netherlands in two friendly games at St George's Park (near Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire) on 21 and 22 March. Kick off is at 15:00; the public are welcome to cheer them on.
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