Most of my summer nights as a child were spent with my cousins. Mucking around, making mud pies, play fighting, getting hit in the face with a wet football and feeling the sting for the next half hour. I knew I was different, but I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. It was only towards the end of Primary School and heading into Secondary School that I started to realise just how much my disability prevented me from doing things. I couldn’t play football in the playground because I was too weak. I couldn’t play dodgeball in the hall because I was too slow. I couldn’t take part in cross country because I didn’t have the stamina. Reflecting upon my Primary School years I soon realised that I’d played a lead role in the age-old stereotype of being picked last for the team.

After so many years of not being able to play sport – my entire time in secondary school, college and even mid-way through a degree – I resigned myself to never being able to do so. I briefly researched wheelchair basketball, but I soon realised that a huge amount of upper body strength was needed; strength that I just didn’t have. Playing sport seemed like an impossible task. One I’d never overcome.

Then, I found Powerchair Football. Or, rather, Powerchair Football found me! 

I was at my bi-annual check-up with the specialists when my mother pointed out a poster on the wall advertising “Powerchair Football Grassroots Taster Sessions – Middlesbrough PFC” – inviting people to come and give it a go. Honestly, I shrugged it off and said – “nah, I’m good, it’ll probably be rubbish anyway” and went about my day. My parents proceeded to hound me for the rest of the week. Telling me I might enjoy it. It will be nice to get out of the house. I’ll meet new friends. I might even be good at it.

In the end, I caved. Not because of their reasoning, but just to stop them going on about it!

When younger I enjoyed having a kick about with my brothers in the garden, other than that I wasn’t a massive fan of football as a whole. The money, disrespect and general demeanour of footballers bothered me – it still does to this day. So, the thought of enjoying Powerchair Football didn’t even cross my mind. Going to the taster session was nothing more than a means to an end. I was wrong. I can honestly say that the minute I sat down in my first chair – a Storm – I was hooked. It was surprising to me, especially after never having a real interest in football. 

Soon after the taster sessions, I was asked to join the team that would enter the National League and encouraged to start raising funds for my own sports chair. It occurred to me that I may actually – for the first time in my life – be good at a sport. Before we knew it, after a short period of training, we were in Nottingham playing in the Championship division. Now, I’m not going to beat around the bush – we were atrocious. I narrowly avoided a red card in my first ever competitive match for going around the back of the goal post – the referee showed mercy upon my soul and made it a yellow card.

A few more seasons passed – I’d raised the funds to get my own sports chair (a lovely couple held a football tournament fundraiser after seeing my story in the local newspaper and the Royal British Legion donated the rest of the funds) – and we started to come into our own.

Eventually, we secured a spot in the Premiership Division, where we stayed for 3 seasons – proving we belonged – before our unfortunate relegation last season (18/19). Of course, being relegated was a bitter pill to swallow. For a short while, I tortured myself with what I could have done differently, asking if I’d done enough and been a big enough part of the team’s effort to avoid relegation. I’m still unsure of the answer. Nevertheless, I eventually saw it as an opportunity to grow – personally, as a team, on and off the pitch. I believe we still have what it takes to gain a promotion and sit pretty in Premiership again. It won’t be easy, but, nothing good ever is.

Growing up I suffered a lot with anxiety and panic attacks. Powerchair Football helped me overcome that anxiety – it bought me out of my shell and showed me a camaraderie of the likes I’d never experienced. I’m now a coach for Middlesbrough Powerchair Football Club. I was previously the clubs Player Representative, and I captained the clubs Reserves (previously Middlesbrough Greens) to winning the North East Regional League. Before Powerchair Football coaching or captaining any sort of team was the stuff of nightmares, as was being the representative of a group of people. Now, although I’m still quiet and reserved, I’m able to coach a team and not feel any sort of dread. You may even say that I enjoy it? Perhaps.

Powerchair Football has made me who I am today and I’m incredibly humbled by that. I’m thankful for all of the support I’ve received over the years. My Powerchair Football story is still in the early chapters, there’s so much more to go. Watch this space...

 

 Q. Playing Number?

 Number 3 – which by total coincidence is my lucky number!

 Q. Playing position?

 Nets & any wing. Wherever I’m needed really!

 Q.Playing chair type?

 Previously a Luca, now I play in a Strike Force with a rear bumper extension.

Q. Best player you’ve played against?

Jon Bolding. He can pass a ball with pinpoint accuracy and commands the pitch like no one I’ve seen. He’s phenomenal.

Q. Best game you’ve played in?

It’s difficult to pick just one. The past year I’ve developed greatly as a player – so I’d pick one from this season! Perhaps vs Cheltenham (Nationals, November 16 2019) – we were a goal behind for most of the match before a well-worked attack evened things up with just five seconds left on the clock!

Q. 19/20 Premiership Predictions?

1 – West Bromwich Albion PFC

2 – Northern Thunder

3 – Aspire PFC

Although I think Aspire could still pull it back!

Q. 19/20 Championship Predictions?

1 – Newcastle PFC

2 – Teesside PFC

3 – Middlesbrough PFC

Newcastle are a brilliant team and have been dominant, it’s a no brainer. Same can be said for Teesside. Third spot is still up for grabs – although our record so far has been inconsistent I have every confidence we could make third place – it’s the games ahead that count, not the ones we’ve already played!

Q. Hobbies and activities outside of Powerchair Football?

Honestly, I’m a massive geek. You’ll catch me watching Dr Who, Star Wars, WWE etc. I often joke that I’m like Raj from The Big Bang Theory (awkward around women with a love of all things geek). I LOVE music and going to live music events – from sold-out concert halls to micropubs. I’m no stranger to singing myself either, I even do a number with a local band now and again!

 

To support Ryan and many others, you can donate to the WFA below.

Please select a donation amount: *
Set up a regular payment Donate

 

Do you want to be our next player case study? Email Ryan Sipple at [email protected]