Wilfried Zaha and Julian Speroni took to specialist wheelchairs alongside the Crystal Palace FC Foundation’s powerchair football team, joining them in a training session at Waddon Leisure Centre.
Jason Puncheon watched admiringly as his team mates got to grips with the intricate skills demanded by the sport. The Palace ‘Family’ was well represented with Under 18 player of the year Luke Dreher, Palace Ladies Alma Donohoe and Ciara Sherwood and Academy player Levi Lumeka, also taking part.
The Foundation’s powerchair team will feature in a film being made by BT Sport, showcasing a three-year programme to inspire disabled people through sport. The Foundation has been running the team for three years and it plays regularly in the Wheelchair Football Association’s south-east league. Powerchair football is a four-a-side, non-contact sport that can be played by both genders and all ages – the age range in Palace’s team is from nine to 46.
Previous donations from Julian Speroni’s testimonial fund and Palace fan Graham Finch, along with the Robert Eaton Memorial Fund, have paid for equipment, but with each chair costing upwards of £6,000 and transport costs to cover on top of that, it was becoming difficult to fund the team.
The new funding from the Premier League and BT Disability Programme will help the Foundation achieve its goal of ensuring a chair for every player and will cover transport and hall hire costs. It will also enable the Foundation to employ an extra Disability Officer to co-ordinate the programme and promote inclusion.
Life-long Crystal Palace fan Matt Sharp, 28, will feature in the film about the team. Matt suffers from Tourette’s syndrome and his spine was damaged at the age of 12 by a nervous spasm. He has been in a wheelchair for several years, but powerchair football has allowed him to continue to play sport.
The film will be broadcast by BT Sport on Saturday October 29th, the day of Palace’s match against Liverpool at Selhurst Park, when the Foundation is planning to showcase other aspects of its disability programme, including its work with Visually Impaired and Down’s Syndrome footballers.
Julian Speroni said: “Programmes like this are brilliant. We want to promote disability sport and make people aware that disability sport is available in and around Corydon so more people can enjoy it. It’s great what they do, these kids love to play football.
“Most of these kids are from the area, are Crystal Palace fans and they love the club. What the club and the Crystal Palace Foundation is doing in the community is great. We need to support it as much as we can because it’s brilliant seeing these kids playing football. They watch us play every week and they’re here now enjoying the sport they love.”
Foundation coach, Michael Harrington, who runs the team, said: ‘With the Premier League and BT funding, we can now expand the team. The sport is getting bigger all the time and we have players who are nine or ten who will have a great future. It was great to see so many members of the Crystal Palace Family supporting the event, from the first team all the way through to the Academy and our Ladies team. It shows the players they’re all part of the same family’.
Matt’s mother, Christine, said: We are all Palace fans, but Matt is the only one who can say he has worn the Palace shirt. It is great for him to be part of a team and he gets so much from it, he really enjoys playing’.