Disability football locally is still top heavy with adult players.

Before lockdown, when we were setting up our website, we spoke to Sam Firth.

Sam Firth

SYACL:  you’re a familiar face around the SYACL and a fantastic supporter of the League, could you tell us a little about your career to date, your refereeing and playing activities, and your involvement with all levels and aspects of football.

SF: I had my first experience of working in community-based football while at University in London. My course was partnered with Arsenal FC’s community foundation which provided us with some real hands on experience of working with different communities in North London. After University I spent some time coaching in the US before joining Sheffield Wednesday Community foundation on my return; I did this firstly as a volunteer to try and find my way in before becoming a full-time employee. I actually joined the community foundation following an advert from SWFCCP’s disability programme for a volunteer coach, as a child one of my step parents was a carer and I have a couple of autistic family members, so it was something I felt I really wanted to invest my time into as I always knew the difference sport could make. 

Outside of my career I run a Saturday morning football team in the Sheffield Fair Play League called Hillsborough Pumas. I’ve been running the team for the last three years, although we are part of the larger club which was founded in 2000, we decided when setting up we wanted to create a link with a local junior team to provide a pathway for young players into men’s football. I’ve also recently qualified as a referee and have enjoyed refereeing some junior & men’s fixtures when time has permitted as I’ve also continued to play on Sunday mornings. 

Hillsborough Pumas.

SYACL: How did you come to be involved with Disability Football and how did your relationship with the SYACL evolve?

SF: I first became acquainted with the SYACL while working at Sheffield Wednesday Community Programme; we had 5 teams which competed in the SYACL. My first impression was really shock at the sheer size of the league and the number of players & volunteers involved. It was amazing to meet so many people who really gave up a lot of their time to put a smile on the faces of others, it’s still the thing that stands out most for me, the people involved in this league really are heroes to me. 

SYACL: How do you sum up the success of the SYACL – you must be thrilled at the way it has grown.

SF: I am really thrilled with the success of the League; I do think it has really benefited from been controlled by the people involved. When I first started in my role at S&HCFA the League was still primarily run by the County FA, this threw up its own challenges, but since Darren & Mike have taken the reins the League has continued to develop at a great pace; I think that really comes down to the communication they have with the clubs & keeping its values consistent. 

SYACL: What have been the major challenges in increasing local participation in Disability Football?

SF: At the moment disability football locally is still top heavy with adult players. The junior game has continued to develop over the last few years & we now have a partnered league with the Sheffield & District Junior Football League, which many know is one of the largest junior football leagues in the whole of Europe. The greatest challenge is really changing perceptions around what children, parents & coaches think they can do. As an example, we recently ran an event with local schools for children with special educational needs and disabilities, I spoke to a couple of parents afterwards to discuss their child joining in at a local session and the parents told me, “They couldn’t because they are autistic.” This for us poses the greatest challenge; how do we create an environment where parents can feel comfortable knowing their child has the support they require & are able to develop at their own pace?

This is something we are trying to work on at the moment by introducing recreational football centres with our local community foundation trusts and by speaking to parents/carers directly at taster events to let them know these opportunities are here for them to access. 

SYACL: How do you see the future for the League?

SF: I see the League & clubs continuing to grow. I would like to see more involvement from charter standard clubs partnering with disability football teams to offer support. There’s a great deal of experience within grassroots football and I believe forming links between large grassroots clubs and disability football will not only help develop it further, but provide a safe future for our clubs. Clubs who offer a full pathway for Men’s, Boys, Girls, Women’s and Disability football are much more likely to attract investment meaning better facilities and a better football experience. It will be interesting to see where we can work with local clubs to make this happen. 

We are also working on a local Women’s offer at the moment, initially this will be linked into a cross County competition with clubs from West Riding, Leicestershire, Birmingham & Staffordshire involved; however, I see this developing into something more localized with the Ability Counts League in the future. 

SYACL: What would you say to anyone thinking of becoming involved in Disability Football?

SF: I’d just share with them some of the great stories I’ve seen over the time I’ve been involved. Football has the power to change people’s lives and I’ve seen huge personal development in individuals who have joined our clubs and leagues. To me the Ability Counts League is about more than football, it’s about the people and the friendships that the people involved develop. 

BBC Radio Sheffield welcomes the SYACL to “The Sports Academy.”

Radio Sheffield presenters

Last night, (Tuesday, 26th August) SYACL League Secretary Darren Warner appeared as Adam Oxley’s guest on Radio Sheffields ‘The Sport Academy’ show regularly focusing on a huge variety of sporting stories across the region, featuring the famous, and the not-so-famous.

Darren was joined by League website Volunteer and Covid-19 Co-ordinator Colin Muncie; between them the pair fielded a series of questions from Adam about the history of the SYACL, preparations for the upcoming season, the development of the SYACL Website and the growth of interest in Disability football.

Adam – a huge supporter of local grassroots football – has asked that we keep him updated on the progress of the League in general and our future stories featuring our many personalities.

Darren’s piece can be found below and is reproduced with the kind permission of Adam and BBC Radio Sheffield.

Here’s the link to last night’s show. Listen to the whole show or the SYACL interview is at 1hr 36min 30 secs

Thanks to Adam and well done to Darren & Colin!!!


Patrick Wyatt

The South Yorkshire Ability Counts League is sad to report the death of popular SYACL referee Patrick Wyatt. 

SYACL Referee’s Secretary Sean Wright told the website, “Patrick passed away last Thursday, 20th August.

On behalf of all of the referees and  everyone associated with the SYACL , I’d like to extend heartfelt condolences to Patrick’s family.”

Sean added, “I knew Pat for a number of years and he was a great bloke who will be sadly missed.

Two of our League teams met yesterday for friendly games

Two of our League teams met yesterday for friendly games when Aston Swallownest JFC Disability team travelled to Bradford City DFC.

The four games were played in great competitive spirit.

Well done to all the lads, both Managers stated how pleased and proud they were with how both teams played.

Swallownest Aston wish to thank Bradford city DFC for the day, the lads really enjoyed it.

It’s very rewarding…just make sure it is fun!

Barnsley FC Academy Coach and Barton Town FC Manager Rob Watson talks to the SYACL Website.

Barton Town FC Manager Rob Watson

Latest in our series talking to local personalities who have contributed to the rise in popularity of disability football features former Winterton Town and now Barton Town Manager Rob Watson.

Rob told us about his involvement with Community Trust football in general, and disability football in particular, and offers us his insight into how to develop disability footballers.

First, though, we asked Rob a little about his new role in the shadow of the Humber Bridge.   

SYACL: Rob, you’ve recently taken over as Manager at NCEL Division One side Barton Town. How are things shaping up at the Swans in these strange times?

Rob: “It’s been the strangest pre-season I’ve ever been a part of – but things have gone great so far. We have built on the squad from last season and morale is good in camp. We are literally waiting for the League start date so we can plan the next few weeks. The lads have treated pre-season as if the League will start in September – so we are raring to go!”

SYACL: Tell us about your role with Barnsley FC.

Rob: “I am the Lead Foundation Phase coach working full time with the Academy. My role is managing the 8-11-year olds at the club. I have the pleasure to work alongside some excellent people at Barnsley; the staff at the Academy have helped me become a better coach on and off the pitch. The knowledge in our office is far greater than anything I have learned on a coaching course.”

SYACL:  Rob, we’d like to know a little more about your career so far and how you came to be involved with disability football.

Rob: “I worked at Scunthorpe United and Barnsley FC Community Trust schemes. Both clubs coach disability football and it was a pleasure to be involved. I worked in disability schools and local youth clubs. We taught a range of sessions – it wasn’t all football.”

“After I left the Community Trust, I worked full time for the Academy. Since then I have obtained UEFA A Licence and FA Advanced youth award.”

SYACL: What would you say are the most important aspects of coaching people living with disabilities?

 Rob: “Enjoy it!! It is very rewarding; just be patient with all involved and make sure it’s fun. When a coach enjoys a session, it has a huge impact on the players taking part.”

SYACL: Finally, Rob, what would you say to anyone considering becoming involved with disability football? 

Rob: “Working in disability football will develop you further as a coach. You are challenged in ways that help you on and off the pitch. The players will love your sessions if you make them fun and challenging.”

“Players love to take part – with a reward at the end of it.”

The SYACL Website would like to thank Rob for his participation in this interview and wishes him well in his new role.

The South Yorkshire Ability Counts League features three pan-disability Leagues who play their fixtures at Concord Sports Centre, and three Leagues of participants with mild to moderate learning difficulties, including autism, who play alternately at Goals Doncaster and Goals Sheffield.

South Yorkshire Ability Counts League Covid-19 2020/1 Season Update

Mike Stylianou brings the latest developments – and a few significant changes – ahead of the new Season.

Five -a -side Divisional Tournament

After lengthy consideration and discussion, the SYACL has decided to cancel the 5-a-side Divisional Tournament scheduled for September 20th 2020.

In making this decision, League management took the view that the constant movement of players and officials around the short matches – particularly with all teams playing each other on the same day – increased unnecessary risks.

Hopefully at the end of the season we will be able to stage the Divisional Tournaments on the same day – or consider an alternative type of Cup tournament.

Revised Matchday Arrangements

We have also considered minimising other risks on match days. As a result, there will be other changes for next season, as follows;

1. The 5-a-side League 1 teams will revert back to playing just 2 longer games and not all against each other on match days (which essentially was a mini tournament).

2. The maximum squad numbers for each team for each match day will be reduced, as follows;

For the seven- a-side teams, squads will be reduced from 12 to 10 players, so that the maximum number – including just 2 team officials – will be 12 people per team.

For the five-a side squads, numbers will be reduced from 10 to 8 players, so that the maximum number – including two team officials – will be 10 per team.

3. Spectators

It is very unlikely that any spectators will be permitted to the venues, so please start making plans with your parent / carers how to best arrange meeting your players at the venues and/ or organising transport for your whole group.

We will also arrange times for each team to enter the venue, so please advise players travelling independently not to arrive at the venues early.

4. Fixtures will be arranged for teams to play their matches back to back, though that will not be possible for all matches. This reduces time at the venue for most people. After completing their matches, we would expect teams to immediately leave the venue.

5. The 5-a-side League season will now start on October 18th. Apologies for those who have already made plans for September 20th.

Hopefully, restrictions at the venues will be relaxed throughout the season with the easing of social distancing; but for the immediate future all these changes for next season will remain in place unless you are advised otherwise by the SYACL.

SYACL Officials are continuously monitoring the latest HM Gov and FA Guidance, and will be liaising with the three regular venues throughout the season.

Although the County FA have not formally announced it, we have been reliably informed that there won’t be any County Cup matches for next season. The League would have asked teams to make their own match arrangements, so it is probably a relief for most.

We hope that the County FA will attempt to play the postponed semi-final matches from season 2019/20 at the end of next season if this is possible.

We understand how disappointing these changes may be for many of you, but we hope that you understand that the health and safety of all participants is the priority at this time.

As usual if you have any queries please contact me, Darren, or Colin.

Stay safe.

Mike Stylianou.

All teams must complete a risk assessment for their team. If anyone is struggling please contact Colin, our Co-vid coordinator, and he will be pleased to assist you with compiling your assessment.

E-Mail susancolinm@googlemail.com

Mobile 07739 089234

FA Grassroots Awards 2020, West Riding FA, Volunteer of the Year. Winner: Matthew Groves Hemingway (Bradford City Disability FC)

Today we feature one of the many supporters and volunteers at disability football. He has been awarded the FA Grassroots Awards 2020, West Riding FA, Volunteer of the Year.
Matthew Bradford City dis.2jpg
Winner: Matthew Groves Hemingway (Bradford City Disability FC)

Matthew was the first community volunteer at Bradford City AFC.

Matthew Bradford City dis

With learning difficulties and non-verbal he plays football for Bradford City Disability FC.

His dedication and tenacity have been a large part of driving forward the club’s programmes.

Over four years he has done his FA Level 1 in Coaching Football Course, he helps out in schools coaching; when he is not playing football, he is volunteering at every fundraiser, event and game for other teams.

Matthew has a passion for social media and runs the Bradford City Disability FC Twitter and Facebook pages making sure everyone knows about the good work the club are doing. He used this platform to contact McDonald’s Thornbury and with some help this developed into a fantastic partnership for the club for which McDonald’s were awarded The FA Grassroots Community Award for National Restaurant of the Year 2019.

Seeing him every day has changed the perception of many people about people with disabilities and the value that they can bring to sport.

Bradford City Disability FC wish to thank their sponsor at BIST Group for their ongoing support of all of our volunteers.

Matthew Bradford City dis.team

There has been an update on training @Bradford City Disability FC……

Tuesday 8th September we will be back at Bradford Academy 5pm until 7pm (outside only for all age groups)

Thursdays… Venue not open!! (We are looking at alternatives in the area) 6 -8pm
Anyone interested in joining our disability club call Paul Jubb 07845568226

Bradford People FirstEquality TogetherDisabled Children’s Information Service (Bradford)Bradford & District Disabled People’s Forum and SNOOP, Special Needs Objective Outreach Project.

Hallam FC Manager Craig Denton talks to the SYACL Website

“It’s extremely rewarding – and you meet some fantastic people” 

Craig Denton

Many of today’s most prominent local football figures have played an important part in the development of disability football. One case in point is the new Hallam FC Manager Craig Denton – who spent a large part of his career working with footballers living with disabilities, helping to grow local levels of participation.

Craig was kind enough to put his Sandygate Manager’s ‘to-do’ list to one side to talk to the South Yorkshire Ability Counts League website about his career and his involvement in Community football; and as we’ll see, Craig had an important part to play in the early days of the SYACL.

We started, though, by asking Craig about his new job at the Oldest Football Ground in the World.

 SYACL First things first, Craig. You recently took on the Manager’s role at Hallam. How did that come about, and how are things going in these unusual times?

 “I was delighted to have been presented with the opportunity to manage Hallam Football Club,” Craig told us.” I wanted something closer to home after leaving Barton Town due to my wife expecting our first child. Hallam stand out in Sheffield as a well-run, well organised and ambitious club who want to start trying to push on. That’s certainly something I want to be a part of.”

SYACL Many people may not know about your association with Disability Football at Sheffield Wednesday. Tell us about your role; how long you were there and what you achieved.

 “I worked for about 12 years at Sheffield Wednesday Community Programme,” Craig explained. “I loved my time coaching in schools and really driving the programme forward. Then the Disability Community Officer role came available, so I applied and was successful in getting the job.”

“It was a role which I was really proud of and one I was very passionate about.  I worked very closely with the County FA and the Ability Counts Football League, trying to drive the Ability Counts programme forward.” 

 “I had lots of involvement with local Specialist schools and worked closely with the County FA to increase participation in all disability sport.” 

SYACL As an experienced coach, what would you say were the major priorities in working with players living with disabilities?

 “Working with players with additional needs is extremely rewarding as it gives everyone an opportunity to flourish and excel in what they love; and the results are amazing.”

SYACL Finally, Craig, what would you say to anyone thinking of becoming involved with disability football?

“I’d certainly recommend for any up and coming coach to get involved with disability football; it’s extremely rewarding – and you meet some fantastic people.”

The SYACL would like to thank Craig for speaking to us, and we wish him well in his new role.

Disability FA mentor, Liam Kay shares a history of his career

In the first of our features meeting up with some of Disability Football’s fantastic supporters, we caught up with Liam Kay, who many of you will have seen in and around many of the SYACL clubs. Liam has a wealth of experience at every level of the game, so our Website editor Margaret Gregory caught up with him.

liam Kay @ LA Galaxy

Liam during his time @ L A Galaxy

Margaret started by asking Liam to share a potted history of his career and how he came to be involved in coaching and mentoring.

Liam explained, “I have had a passion for football all my life. I was fortunate enough to represent and Captain Rotherham School Boys and played at Aston Villa and Barnsley FC as a youth player. I had a little time playing semi-professional football at Emley FC after coming back from a bad knee injury – but that was cut short due to me snapping my ACL a second time and dislocating my knee. Ronnie Glavin who was the Manager at the time suggested that I tried coaching – as playing was no longer an option. I was really fortunate that I had many coaches who would let me help at sessions, observe sessions and mentor me as a coach.”

Liam continued, “I have coached in Europe and the USA; and I have worked at professional clubs Barnsley FC and Manchester City, both coaching and scouting. For the last three years I have been scouting for Manchester United.”

“I have been an FA Mentor for 5 years, supporting grassroot coaches which is a great role. I have since spent two seasons as the Disability FA mentor; this involved working with local clubs, looking at the club’s philosophies, and supporting and developing coaches.”

“I have also been involved in the England Talent ID events in the North of England, identifying talent for the national team.”

Margaret then asked, “Tell us a little about your scouting role at Manchester United.” 

Liam replied, “I’m Academy scout – I will go into professional football clubs and do match reports or player reports and feed these back to Manchester United.”

Margaret, “You’ve made a fantastic contribution to the South Yorkshire Ability Counts League, Liam. Tell us a little about your involvement in coaching with the League and what your priorities have been.”

Liam, “I was allocated hours from the Sheffield and Hallamshire FA to go and support Disability teams. I have loved the role and I have met some great coaches along the way. Hopefully, the project will get the funding for next season as it helps many coaches and players.”

“I helped clubs develop a philosophy, scheme of works, session planning, CPD events, and supported coaches either to gain qualifications or give them new ideas.”

Margaret, “What would you say are the most important aspects of coaching people living with disabilities?

Liam, “Always be clear on your instructions and have good patience. Don’t underestimate the standard of the players when planning a session and make it fun!!!”

Margaret, “Finally, Liam, what would you say to anyone considering becoming involved with disability football? 

 Liam, “Do it!!! it’s rewarding, and support is always here if you need it! “

The SYACL would like to thank Liam for his fantastic support and for giving up his time to talk to our Website.

FA Guidance for the restart of grassroots football.

The FA has asked that we again emphasis the League’s position regarding spectators in anticipation of the restart of competitive football.

The first note is aimed more specifically at League Officials and we published that in an earlier blog, but it does provide some useful background to the standards expected by the FA to ensure a safe restart, and describes some of the changes to match day protocols.

The second guidance note is probably more familiar to the SYACL teams but provides more, useful information on hygiene practice during training sessions and during competitive play.

Clubs are reminded of the importance of completing their Risk Assessment documents for use within their own clubs.

If you are unsure of any rulings, please follow the links below;