25. Nov, 2021


Football has been a constant in my life, this was certainly true during my school years. I was educated at Swanswell School in Solihull. Swanswell was a 'Special School' devoted solely to the needs of children with physical disabilities

To be honest the standard of education was poor. When I left school in 1987, I did not have an academic qualification to my name, hardly surprising as Swanswell offered no formal examinations. Still, the facilities were great. We had our own purpose built swimming pool. A number of my fellow pupils were avid football fans. During the rest of this piece I will introduce several of my friends to you, although their names have been changed to protect their privacy

Sam Blackwell was my best friend at Swanswell. Sam had Musclar Dystrophy the cruelist of all disabilities. Sam was actually born able bodied, but like everyone with that condition his muscles weakened rapidly. Life expectancy is estimated at only 19, so it says much for Sam's wonderful spirit that he lived to the tragically young age of 21. When I first met Sam he was already in a wheelchair, but thanks to a loving family he adopted a positive attitude to life. Sam loved football, a massive Aston Villa fan he had a season ticket at Villa Park Sam told me a story tinged with black humor. All visiting disabled fans were welcome down the Villa, with the exception of Leeds United supporters. The West Yorkshire travelling fans were causing trouble in the disabled section. Were crutches been employed as missiles? Were Powered Wheelchairs been rammed into their claret and blue counterparts. You may find these jests in bad taste, if so I apologies. But in my view we've lost the ability to laugh at ourselves. and we seem more divided then ever.

Sam and I had some interesting football related school trips. We went to the old Wembley Stadium in 1986. now I would like to wow you and say we saw England play Brazil or we saw Liverpool win the FA Cup. But this was a low key affair, bizarrely our school had some how managed to acquire tickets for the Varsity Match between Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Everyone is familiar with the two great academic institutions locking horns in the boat race, the rugby union equivalent used to get broadcast live on BBC2. But no such grander was afforded to the Beautiful Game. The football match was played on a Wednesday afternoon in early December in front of a smattering of hardly souls. Roy of the Rovers it certainly wasn't . Nether less, it was still Wembley and I loved it. I've read Danny Baker hated the old place. Sorry Danny, at least it had character, unlike the new joint which looks like a slight upgrade on the numerous concrete bowls which host the national game. Yes Emirates, King Power and St Mary's I mean you. Sill at least the disabled loos are a lot nicer in the new gaffs.

We were also both members of the Boy Scouts (Swanswell Branch). Camping was never my scene, it lacked one thing, yes Central Heating. A trip to the Atari Football Six A Side at the National Exhibition Centre was more my cup of tea. You may be thinking what the hell is he on about, well certainly if you are under 40 years of age. Well basically indoor football was played in an arena of similar size to a Ice Hockey rink. Just substitute Astro Turf for ice. This was no mickey mouse event. First Division (now Premier League) teams took the tournament very seriously. Players like Chris Waddle and Jesper Olsen played, its a far cry from today when top flight clubs play reserve teams in major domestic cup competitions. Typical of my lot, Birmingham City were brilliant at Six a Side Indoor Football. In 1982 we won the Midland Masters and were crowned national champions a year later.

Just before leaving Swanswell I was asked to attend a week long assessment course in London. The course was run by Scope, the organization which campaigns for the rights of people with Cerebral Palsy. The course was designed to establish the most suitable form of Further Education for school leavers. It was a cracking week, we were based in a purpose built building in the shadow of British Telecom Tower. One night we were given a guided tour of London. We saw Buckingham Palace, The Mal and The Tower Of London, London by night is quite a sight. It was during this week that I met Alan Thompson, who remains a friend to this day.

Alan is a Geordie and is an a ardent Newcastle United fan, well there is always someone worse off then yourself. Although I've got a feeling that the recent take over might change that. He lived in Blaydon, home of the Newcastle United anthem.

After much deliberation the experts recommended that Thommo and I continue our education at Hereward College in Coventry. Hereward is the National College for Students with Physical Disabilities. Sam also became a pupil at Hereward. Sam and I were day students. Coventry was only a 20 minute commute from our homes. Alan was a residential student, Blaydon is a bit of a trek. Anyway the three of us hit it off immediately, although in time Alan made his own friends, who could blame him. We were swanning off home every night while Thommo stayed at Hereward. Sadly I was an immature twat, a trait which I am not proud of and has certainly harmed my relationship with the opposite Sex, but that's a different story!

Thommo was a joker, but I had the last laugh on one occasion. With my best Poker Face on, I told him Newcastle had re-signed Peter Beardsley, It was complete bull of course, but Thommo swallowed it and did a grand tour of Hereward, when he returned he had twigged. BRUMMIES 1 GEORDIES 0, as Norman Stanley Fletcher stated in Porridge "It's the little victories that count. Alan and I drifted apart but following Mum's Death I sent him a Facebook message last year. He's been a fantastic mate this past 12 months, howay the lads!

Jack Carter is another top man, even though he supports Manchester United, Jack also has Cerebral Palsy, although born in Grimsby his family moved to Cheshire hence his devotion to the Red Devils and it is true devotion. He was a residential student but never missed a home game. Mum Ruth would pick Jack up on the Friday night before their weekend trip to Old Trafford. Mr Carter also owned every United shirt since 1990. John Jackson was even more dedicated to Ipswich Town, although a wheelchair user John would follow The Tractor Boys up and down the Country. British Rail must have loved John.

Surprisingly I can only recall 2 Coventry City fans amongst our happy band. Ian Bedford and Matthew Gordon, both good lads who loved the Sky Blues. Although Steve O'Dowd seems to have transferred his allegiances from Liverpool to Coventry. Well you can't accuse Steve of been a glory hunter! Lastly I would like to mention Pete Dodds and Sanjay Akram. Pete is a massive Wolverhampton Wanderers fan. He comes from Tipton, the birthplace of Wolves legend Steve Bull. Sanjay was Pete's mate, but he followed the fortunes of Black Country rivals West Bromwich Albion. Sadly, Sanjay had Muscular Dystrophy and like Sam died at a tragically young age. But they were smashing lads.