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Northern Thunder play West Bromwich in disability cup final

Sam smith and Natasha Mead
Sam smith and Natasha Mead Image credit: theguardian.com

Last weekend, June 18 and 19, saw two days of footie action as the FA Disability Cup finals were played in Burton-on-Trent.

Taking place at St. George’s Park the games may not have had the largest audience - they were only being shown on BT Sport - but to the disabled community they are a pretty big deal.

In total six matches took place on Saturday and Sunday with teams consisting of players who live with conditions such as vision loss, hearing loss, cerebral palsy and amputees. They may have had different disabilities but all were aiming towards one ‘goal’ - to take their team to victory.

Northern Thunder played West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, it’s was one of the six nail biting games which took place at the ground.

Sam Smith was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy when he was three, by ten he was unable to walk but that did not stop him following in his dad’s footsteps and going on to play for Northern Thunder.

“There was a year when I was a bit lost, watching my friends and my brothers play after school and unable to join them,” Smith told The Guardian. “But then I found powerchair football and fell in love with it straight away.

“It’s something that I’m in control of when maybe before my body would let me down. I knew in my head what I wanted to do, I had a football brain, but physically I couldn’t do it. Now there’s nothing holding me back. There’s no barriers, it’s me and this chair and it’s a level playing field. It’s quite empowering really.”

Natasha Mead plays for Brighton & Hove Albion and is the only woman in the team. Despite being outnumbered by the opposite sex this weekend the 27-year-old from Plymouth also plays for England’s inaugural women’s blind squad.

“I definitely think the game is growing, in particular the female game,” she said. “Hopefully we can have a women's league in the near future.”

Smith has made 14 appearances for England, he says the attention from the national team is helping push the powerchair game into the limelight, hopefully one day it will be shown on Sky Sports.

“It’s something that’s been echoed through to us from England, leaving the shirt in a better place than you found it,” he explained. That means improving yourself as an athlete but also the way in which the game is played.

“I think the biggest development over the past few years has been the development of a passing style of play,” Smith said. “In the early days it was a lot more like bumper cars really. It was all chairs dribbling into each other and it became a bit messy. But one thing we’ve always been told with England is to try and play that passing game, a more expansive version of the game, and to take it back to our clubs to help progress the game, to make it a bit more exciting.”

Is it the taking part which counts? Not according to Smith. “Winning’s the main thing,” he expressed, “but it’s a chance to showcase your sport too, to develop it even further and show that disabled people can compete at elite level.”

Northern Thunder won 2-1 against West Bromwich Albion on penalties. Full results can be seen on The FA website.