Football: Powerchair expansion typified by Leeds club
In a small sports leisure centre nestled just inside the University of Leeds campus, the last six years have seen Leeds Powerchair Football Club gradually rise to the very top level in the country.
Before 2012, Leeds had never had a wheelchair football team represeting the city. However, after one inspiring London Paralympics combined with a small group of determined, dedicated parents, the tide soon changed.
Since then, the club has reached milestone after milestone, with their main squad gearing up for a first season in the sport’s Premiership, securing an impressive promotion from the Championship as the top scorers.
Now with seven teams in total regularly competing, including the Dynamos, Centurions and Chariots, the club contains a number of different players – young and old as well as seasoned players to those still new in the game.
“For my son Hayden, the sport’s almost his life now,” says parent Martin Lambert. “He just always wants to play so he’ll normally switch his time playing for both Leeds and York, which is where we live.
“Obviously it involves a lot of travelling but he just loves the sport so much, so that part of it doesn’t bother him too much.”
On the other end of the scale is Brian Teal. Despite being one of the oldest players – at age 52 – and only being a year into the sport, Brian has already become a key player for the Chariots, regularly lining up for them in the North East Championship.
“I wish I’d started years ago!” says Brain. “I got into it through my sister because, for me, it was something I had never even thought about doing. But since then I’ve just loved it and I think I can definitely improve a lot more. I might even play for England one day!”
For a club like Leeds, aspirations like these are certainly becoming much more of a reality. And, as one of their teams steps up from the Championship, another Leeds side are looking to take their place in the division.
This weekend sees the club’s Dynamos side just one win away from ensuring Leeds have two clubs in England’s top two tiers, as they prepare for a huge play-off outing with Championship side Telford, who are looking to keep their league status.
Certainly, this is another huge prospect for a club still growing and one that club secretary and coach Paul Gorman is confident they can achieve, albeit still finding it tough not to be nervous ahead of the outing on Sunday, June 10.
However, Leeds’ huge growth as a club does come quite literally at a price for all involved, with the highly specialised chairs required to play the game often costing around £5,000 at the very least.
The sport is therefore difficult to maintain without funding, of which Leeds sees quite little, with the help of the parents and carers that started it all still needed to keep the club afloat, let alone allowing them to keep expanding their already impressive heights.
But with the club’s world federation, the FIPFA preparing a bid to join the 2024 Paralympics, this could prove to be another huge springboard for the club 12 years on from the London Games that originally planted the seed.
Certainly there is plenty of hope amongst the volunteers at the club that the sport can find the springboard it needs, with parents Paul Wade and Nigel Haigh, along with the club’s psychologist Oliver Twizell, expressing their desire for any big outside boost to ease the financial sacrifice many players have to make
“As a sport it’s not very visible,” says Nigel. “I think the world cup was the only competition that anyone at home was able to watch and even then it was just on an online stream. But I think it’s got so much more potential than that and can make a difference to a lot more people. So, if we perhaps had our league games filmed or if we linked up with a club like Leeds United then that would make a huge difference.”
For now, however, Leeds Powerchair FC remains a club firmly on the up with this weekend’s play-off fixture is set to be another of many huge moments to add to the club’s short history so far.
Club: Leeds Powerchair Football Club.
Based: Gryphon Sports Centre, University of Leeds.
Founded: October 2012.
Number of members: 25.
Season highlights: First team to earn promotion to the Premiership while Dynamos made it to the North East League play-offs.
Training days: Saturday morning/early afternoon.