Disability football has received a major boost following the announcement of more than £1m in grants to the English Football League (EFL) clubs community trusts up and down the country including Bradford City Football Club Community Foundation.

The “Every Player Counts” programme is funded by the Wembley National Stadium Trust (WNST) and administered by the EFL Trust. Bradford City are one of 25 clubs that been selected to run the programme.

The programme will be run by Paul Jubb, Community Foundation’s Disability Officer and the Head Coach of Bradford’s Disability Football Club. With an already active and quality provision of football available in Bradford, the programme will focus on increasing the number of disabled people playing football through providing free football sessions in several areas across Bradford including sessions within special needs schools and units. The programme will run for 20 weeks and it is hoped the increased participation in specific areas will enable further teams of specific impairments to be formed for regional and national competition such as hearing imparied and Downs Syndrome.

Ian Ormondroyd, Manager of Bradford City Community Foundation said, "The Community Foundation has a track record of investing in activities to encourage initial participation and continued growth of disability football through its Short Breaks funding for under 18’s and, most recently, the volunteer group for older disabled supporters at the club.  The investment in this programme ensures we can reach more disabled people across the community who can be isolated from provisions and allow them to experience the benefits of playing football".

Mike Evans Director of Operations, at the EFL Trust comments, "The strength of this innovative partnership with WNST is that, rather than having some general national goals, it targets specific local needs. The unique positioning of EFL clubs and their community trusts at the heart of their communities, provide a strong understanding of what is needed to deliver a project that makes a difference to local people".

The WNST trustees have awarded 23 grants, totalling £1,070,450 over three years, benefitting 25 clubs around England (one grant covers the three clubs in Nottinghamshire). These clubs cover the length and breadth of the country, from Plymouth to Carlisle and Southend to Shrewsbury and are located in a mixture of built-up metropolitan boroughs and more rural locations – all aimed at giving the programme as wide a focus as possible.

The grants awarded reflect this diversity of need. A number of clubs will be involved in developing new impairment specific projects focusing on for example, autism, mental health, learning disabilities, amputees or powerchair football. Some will be expanding their pan-disability football offer in new locations or with new audiences. Others will be using their skills and experience to support local grassroots community clubs to develop their own in-house disability football capacity.

The over-riding aim of the scheme is to increase the amount of disabled people participating in football, breaking down the barriers that have prevented them from doing so. Since the London 2012 Paralympics, we have seen a major increase in the number of disabled people playing sport or wanting to do so. This programme builds on previous work at both WNST and EFL Trust and will continue the expansion of the opportunities available to disabled people to get involved.

It is not a ‘talent pathway’ programme – that is rightly the responsibility of the FA and the other governing bodies overseeing disability football. Of course, if one of the projects discovers a future international or Paralympian, that would be a great achievement, but it is not a required indicator of success. Nevertheless, it is a key consideration for each club, that anyone getting involved in playing through one of these funded projects has a clear exit route to continue their football experience if that is what they want – whether it is just for fun, within a competitive environment or looking for representative honours. It is therefore important that the county FAs and other sports providers are linked into these projects, as well as each club having other opportunities to offer people to play.

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