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'The world is watching' - Amputee football tournament set to take place in Limerick today

We spoke with Irish chairman Simon Baker about the sport’s growing popularity and the Irish team’s chances this weekend.

Members of the Ireland amputee football team with Marco Tardelli last year.
Members of the Ireland amputee football team with Marco Tardelli last year.

THE IRISH AMPUTEE football team are set to host The PaddyPower Cup, an international soccer tournament, which gets underway today in the University of Limerick.

The tournament features 116 players and six countries competing over the course of two days.

The opening ceremony takes place at 10am and the tournament lasts until Sunday, when the final is due to begin at 4pm.

The rules are more or less the same as normal football – with the one obvious difference being that outfield players have one leg and play on crutches without their prosthetic limb, while the goalkeeper has one arm. Moreover, there are normally seven players involved rather than 11.

Ireland have been drawn in Group 2, alongside England and the Netherlands, opening their campaign against the former.

Speaking to TheScore.ie, chairman and founder of the Irish Amputee Football Association, Simon Baker, admits that Ireland are “underdogs” in the tournament. However, he says “we wouldn’t be turning up otherwise” if they didn’t believe they had a chance of winning it.

Baker admits that it’s been a “learning curve” for the Irish team. “We went to [a tournament in] Poland last year and to be honest, we struggled,” he says.

However, he points out that “anyone who plays this game has a passion for it” and believes that over the two years in which they’ve been active, the Irish side have gradually formed “a team they can be confident in”.

Moreover, they also have the benefit of an illustrious coach in Christy McElligott – a name who League of Ireland devotees will be familiar with, as he was part of the St. Pat’s league-winning 1995/96 side.

He also experienced success as a coach of Ballymun United, helping them win FAI Junior Cup, before becoming an Amputee ended his football career.

Despite the relative inexperience of Ireland in comparison to other teams, Baker is hopeful that the Irish team can develop into “a serious contender in the world of amputee football”.


YouTube credit: Patrick Warren

Nevertheless, Baker says that there is more at stake over the next two days than simply on-field success.

He talks of the importance of  “attracting people” with the World Cup on the horizon (it’s due to take place in Mexico next year) and “showing off our product”.

He continues: “This football tournament is about highlighting the game of amputee football, and encouraging the young amputee youth to get involved.  They are the future of our game.

“Amputee football isn’t just about kicking a ball. It’s about working together as a team both on and off the field, it’s about pushing your body to the limits, and coming out of your comfort zone.”

Baker also speaks of their pride at having founder of the World Amputee Football Federation, 82-year-old American Don Bennett, who has “come from vacation to be here,” in addition to Rick Hoffman – the current president of the WAFF.

Baker adds that it is effectively a dress rehearsal for any future tournaments taking place in Ireland and “showing the world” that the country is capable of hosting big events: “We’re hoping after this weekend, if it goes well, we’ll be considered for the [next] World Cup.

“Our aim, by having the tournament here, is showing the likes of Limerick University that [our using of] the facilities is something they can work with.

“This is going to be our market for the future.”

Amputee football is evidently growing in popularity since its formation in 1980, with many people tipping it to become a Paralympic sport in 2016, and Baker agrees that it is now bigger than ever, partially thanks to technology.

“You look at it [on YouTube] and say ‘wow, that’s pretty impressive,’  whereas if I turned around to you in the street, and say I play amputee football you’d say [unenthusiastically] ‘Alright yeah, see you later,’ and be none the wiser.”

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