Allana Grant meets the people behind a groundbreaking and inspiring team.
Having recently moved to their winter training facility, the players and coaches from Syngenta Juveniles’ cerebral Palsy team’s minds have inevitably turned to the club’s first ever competitive match which will take place this coming February .
When the Dyes welcome Chadderton Park FC, another CP outfit based in Oldham, to Little Kerse in the new year, they will mark perhaps the greatest milestone in the team’s history to date.
A history of a mere Four and a half years, but one which has seen the team go from strength to strength; celebrating an SFA award, and regularly welcoming youngsters from all over Scotland to play under the Syngenta banner.
In 2011 Syngenta Juveniles as a club embarked on a process of restructuring and modernisation.
“The one thing we didn’t have,” explains CP team coach Kevin McGuire, “was a disability presence. There was no provision in any way for kids with a disability to play football in a team setup. This was something we really wanted to expand in to.”
Taking their lead from a colleague involved with CP football in Manchester, Syngenta coaches staged events in the local area in an attempt to gage interest. From the outset, children and parents received the initiative with great enthusiasm, and the Cerebral Palsy team was founded shortly after.
It wasn’t long before they made their mark on youth football in Scotland either, achieving the prestigious SFA Disability club status in 2014. Coaching staff and players worked tirelessly, with this goal in mind, to sustain high attendance levels and increase the team’s training sessions to two a month, so there was understandable delight when the SFA recognised their efforts with the award.
“We wanted first and foremost to make provision for disabled kids to play football, so we were immensely proud to have done that and to have gotten the inclusive award was a huge bonus,” said Kevin.
Maintaining high attendance levels proved pivotal to their achievement in 2014, and the squad has continued to strengthen in the two years since. Participants at training sessions now regularly reach the mid –twenties, girls as well as boys aged six to sixteen, and Numbers also include former squad members, who have taken on the mantel of coaches.
“We get Kids coming from everywhere,” Kevin explains with pride. “Although we are based in Grangemouth, I’d say we are pretty much a national club.”
Laterally, with the CP team having become such an established presence, focus has turned in earnest to bringing a competitive element to their play. This is a task which is proving to be no mean feat as Syngenta currently boasts the only CP setup at club level in Scotland.
Coaches have had to look to England to find competition. Oldham side Chadderton Park FC will provide Syngenta with their first real test when they travel up to Scotland in February.
Kevin is delighted to have secured this fixture for his side, intimating that introducing the competitive element will have a hugely positive effect on the way they approach the game of football:
“It’s fine playing against each other in training, but this will bring the competitive edge the kids need. Training sessions will now be specifically geared towards this fixture. We will start to think more about game play: players taking up actual positions rather than focussing solely on skill development as we have been doing. We need to take things on to the next level.”
So, Syngenta’s boys and girls have their game faces well and truly on. Although there is around three months still to go, the prospect of a first competitive match has already done much to boost the team’s morale, as player/coach Aiden Logan tells me: “We can't wait until February! It really gives us all something to train towards.”
In addition to all the excitement surrounding the game itself, there is also a great sense of optimism pervading the air. Optimism that this friendly match could provide the motivation needed to properly kick-start CP club football in Scotland.
National CP squad coach, David Mcardle, was instrumental in trying to get a Pan disability League off the ground a few years ago, but a lack of participants thwarted his efforts.
The feeling is that, in light of Syngenta’s achievements, and after a hugely successful Paralympic games, the time could be right to try again however.
“I know it is something we’ve not managed before but even if we got together five or six teams to form a kind of league, it would be great. Even supposing we could arrange matches every month or couple of months. There would be a proper element of structure.”
Aiden also sees no reason why this shouldn’t be the case: “If national CP teams can compete in tournaments why can't there be the same kind of structure for CP club football.”
Whatever the potential ramifications of February’s fixture though, one thing definitely on the cards, is the road trip down to Oldham for the return leg against Chadderton. The date hasn’t beenAnchor confirmed yet, but fundraising is already under way, and I am assured that it will be one almighty party from start to finish. I wonder if Kevin might squeeze me on to the team bus?