By Graeme Longstaff
If someone asked you to describe the greatest place on earth, where would your mind automatically whisk you away to? That beach in Bali, the cobbled streets of Croatia or the mountaintops of the Alps?
For me it’s a little closer to home – Chelmsley Wood, to be precise. Now, I can pretty much guarantee that no one has ever called Chelmsley Wood the greatest place on earth. However, every Saturday morning I take one of my lads there, Ted, aged six, to football practice.
“Big deal,” I hear you say in your head. You’d be right – this is a big deal. You see, Ted has a form of Cerebral Palsy called a Hemiplegia that affects the right side of his body. He suffers from a lack of balance and coordination; what he calls “being wobbly”.
This also affects his confidence in day-to-day life and can sometimes hold him back from getting stuck in with other kids. However, from just playing in the garden we stumbled upon something Ted loved, where he seemed to forget about his Hemi and just be free. That was football.
After some time playing at home it was obvious Ted yearned for something a little more, something to call his own. So, we set out to look for a place where Ted could train and play in surroundings that not only understood his disability, but most importantly allowed him to feel part of something.
After lots of internet reading (by my rockstar wife, I must add) looking at All Abilities teams such as Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion, we focused our attention on Solihull Moors Ability Counts Foundation.
We reached out to Scott Langford from Solihull Moors and we were welcomed down to check out the training session. The rest, as they say, is history! Over one year later nothing gets Ted out of bed faster than knowing he’s off to play his beloved football. But football is only part of Ted’s love. He loves his friends, his coaches and his feeling of belonging. And you know what? I can fully get this.
When you come down here and just observe what goes down on that pitch, it pretty much brings me to tears every time. Tolerance, acceptance and unadulterated inclusion. None of the kids care about race or religion or sexuality or ability or pretty much anything – apart from having fun and playing football. The world could learn a pretty good lesson in how to be from these young guys and gals.
However, there’s a big reason that teams like this exist, and this is down to the dedication of the club and the coaches. I need to say a huge thank you to Scott, Callum and Darren – you all hold a special place in our family’s heart, and I’m sure in the hearts of the other players’ families.
Also, a huge shout out to the guys from Nike Teamsport (you know who you are) and Kitlocker who are helping us sort out the junior team and frame football team with their very own kit!
Love from the Longstaffs