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January 2011



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Blind England footballers

This is an England football team that would never be booed, with silence a necessary part of the game.

Watching the national blind team train days before the World Cup kicks off in Hereford, there is a hushed quiet.

Whereas mainstream football around the world is played amidst a colourful sonic backdrop – be it chanting, samba bands or a chorus of vuvuzelas – the silence in the blind version of the game is striking.

Etiquette dictates that spectators remain quiet unless the ball goes out of play because players need to be able to hear each other and, crucially, the ball. It contains ball bearings which means its motion makes a gentle rattling noise that helps players to locate it.

Unsurprisingly, the style of play is different too.

Passes cover a shorter distance and, as England defender Keryn Seal explains during the training session, players try not to let the ball stray more than a few inches from their feet, making nimble footwork and a command of the ball vital.

“There’s a lot more dribbling and close control than in a sighted game. Communication is very important among the players too,” he says.

Mesmeric footwork, accurate passing and the ever-present rattling of the ball gives the game a hypnotic quality that makes it easy to forget that the players can’t see what they’re kicking.

There are occasional reminders – perhaps a misplaced pass allows the ball to roll away, or the action stops – and the spectator’s gaze lifts from the players’ feet to the unfamiliar sight of footballers wearing eye patches.

A keen footballer before losing his sight, Keryn adapted his playing style for blind football.

The 28-year-old is perhaps more acutely aware of the different football culture in the blind game than some of his teammates, having lost his sight later than other squad members who weren’t born blind. A congenital eye defect suddenly deprived him of his sight – within a two-month period – when he was 20.

“It was just one of those things,” he says of that sudden, life-changing experience. Football enabled him to channel his “competitive” tendencies and remain active.

Read in Full: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-10914782

How blind football works

  • The football contains ball bearings so it is audible
  • The goalkeeper is sighted or visually impaired
  • The four other players wear eyeshades to take account of differing degrees of eyesight
  • A guide behind the goal directs players to shoot
  • The pitch is surrounded by a rebound wall and there are no throw-ins
  • Players call out “yeah” and their names to make teammates aware of their presence
  • Rules stipulate the players must call out “voy!” – meaning “I’m here” – as they approach to tackle

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