In December last year I took up a kind invitation from the local charity, Tankerton Football Club (TFC), to take part in a pre-Christmas football match between the club’s new Pan Disability Team and the opposing team of Carers and Parents.
Never having played football in my life, I decided that the goal mouth might be the safest place for me—and one where I might see least action. I was wrong! The Pan Disability Team players were relentless and ended up scoring 5 goals to our team’s 2…
Until that day, I had never been a fan of football, but playing (albeit with a velour turkey on my head as it was fancy dress) and on the hallowed ground of Whitstable Football Club, proved to be a revelation. In spite of the aches and pains I suffered afterwards, I was thrilled when Vanessa Oakes, the parent of a son who accesses TFC facilities, and a player in the Carers’ team herself, invited me back to play goalie in a return match – this time at the club’s usual ground at the Seaview Holiday Park.
I first learned about the charity 5 years ago from my friend, Sally Laker, whose son, Toby, was then a member of the club’s Deaf Children’s Football Team. Sally had invited me to an indoor match at a local venue and I spent a memorable evening watching Toby play, while I learned how providing access to grassroots football benefits children and adults with physical and learning disabilities. Since then, I’ve been strong supporter of the club’s work and its creative fundraising events.
In August last year, after learning that TFC needed financial help with kit and sponsorship for their newly-formed Pan Disability Football Team. I discussed this with Acorn TV, the subscription streaming service responsible for the TV series based on my crime novels, Whitstable Pearl, and was thrilled when the company agreed to sponsor the new team.
That year, on a lovely sunny day, Acorn’s Marketing Director Jason Gray and I were invited to watch the new team and their coaches at the team’s weekly training session at the Seaview Holiday Park ground during which we also met a co-sponsor of the team, Kellie Barker, the inspirational special needs parent behind Born Anxious, a company providing sensory clothing for invisible disabilities.
Watching the Pan Disability team play, and for the first time in their brand new kit, I also had a chance to chat to coach, Tom Tsangarides, who explained the team’s need for specialist coaches as the young adults who attend the club have a range of disabilities and their sessions need to be adapted and differentiated accordingly. It was an enlightening and enjoyable day but the last thing I ever imagined was that I might actually find myself playing football with the team – least of all for a second time.
However, just a few weeks ago on yet another gloriously sunny day, we reconvened on the pitch and played our hardest—but our Carers’ team proved no match for the Pan Disability players. Though I proudly admit to having done some pre-match training and having built up some strength from weekly yoga sessions, to my shame, two goals scooted past me far too rapidly!
Half time provided a chance for me to chat to my fellow team players and to learn more about Aiding Independence Ltd, a Herne Bay company that provides support workers for many of the TFC players.
Aiding Independence was established to improve the life experiences of individuals with a learning disability and its services enable individuals like some of the Pan Disability Team players to enjoy the quality of life that they want—and deserve.
The company was begun in 2006 by three women, Yve Doust, Hannah Edge and Sophie Thompson after they recognised the need for quality support for those who manage a learning disability and who want to live independently. Over the last 16 years, with lots of hard work and genuine passion, Aiding Independence has evolved into a service encompassing many different facets of support within various settings. Its care teams offer provision in houses sourced by the company—where individuals reside as a tenant in their own right—as well as within individuals’ own homes or family homes where independent living skills and support to access the community is fully provided. Participating in football matches as members of the Pan Disability Team is one way of accessing the local community as well as enjoying all the physical, psychological and emotional benefits provided by Tankerton Football Club.
Players attending weekly sessions at the club are invariably excluded from mainstream sporting activities so the provision of meaningful sporting opportunities by TFC is not only fundamental to the club members’ physical and mental well-being, it’s also proven to be beneficial for improving social skills, co-ordination, cognition, confidence and self-esteem.
Our last match at the Seaview ground proved that the Pan Disability Team’s progress on the field over the last 6 months has been nothing short of phenomenal. Discounting myself of course, our Carers’ team boasts some fantastic players and though no-one gave our opposing team any breaks, the TFC team thrashed us.
One of my fellow team members, Howard Day, from Aiding Independence said: “It was a great match seeing the guys’ confidence improve so much since the last game in December. The level of the playing on the pitch was noticeably better. A thoroughly enjoyable experience!”
Scott Thompson, another support worker from Aiding Independence commented: “I feel an immense amount of pride watching the team train each week and grow in skill and confidence on the field and play this amazing match. Equally as a team of support workers we are all honoured to be able to support the guys and can’t wait for the next match.”
Howard and Scott speak for all of us on the Carers’ team, including parents like Vanessa Oakes who said “What a wonderful match and celebration. Tim Elgar, Chair of TFC was so impressed with the progress and spirit of the team and I’m so incredibly proud of them all.”
It’s true we played our hardest right to the end – and the TFC team beat us fair and square – again. This time, the score was 4-3 but it could have been worse for us if it hadn’t been for what my fellow team players have described as a “legendary save”. Sheer fluke of course, but having managed to bat a powerful strike out of our goal mouth with my great big goalie glove – I’m happy to be known from now on as The Hand of Wassmer… 😉
Prizes being awarded:
(All photos by Molly Carter: click on images to enlarge)
How you can help TFC
A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to secure Tankerton Football club’s new home ground on “The Bends” between Whitstable and Herne Bay, but it needs our help to reach its target of £20,000.
There are lots of rewards still available within the crowdfunder, including the opportunity to explore the nature reserve at the site. For a £15 donation, recipients can spend a morning bird watching in one of the 3 bird hides on the nature reserve. Pledge £20 and get a tour of the reserve and a half-day session of bee or butterfly watching.
If you feel you can support the club with a donation, no matter how small, I promise you it will be gratefully received and put to great community use.
Tankerton Football Club’s crowdfunder is here:
Huge thanks to Seaview Holiday Park for allowing TFC to play on their ground.
Julie Wassmer is a Whitstable-based author, TV writer and environmental campaigner.
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