Low on confidence, powerchair football turns a life around
Life-long Crystal Palace fan Matt Sharp, 28, has been one of many success stories from the Palace for Life Foundation powerchair football team. Matt was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and ADHD as a child and his involuntary tics caused him to shout and move parts of his body uncontrollably. After his spine was tragically damaged by a nervous spasm, Matt was restricted to a life in a wheelchair. Low on confidence, he started coming to match days at Selhurst Park as he felt comfortable in the loud and accepting environment.
For the last couple of years, Matt has been part of the powerchair team who play regularly in the Wheelchair Football Association’s south-east league. Matt’s coach and Disability Manager of the Foundation, Michael Harrington reflects: “When he came to us he would admit that he didn’t have many friends, he felt very isolated and then we put him in a chair and his eyes lit up and off he was going, he loved it from day one.”
Powerchair football has given Matt the opportunity to partake in the sport he loves. He said: “I don’t have any tics at all when I play, and that’s really turned my life around.” Whilst Matt’s mother, Christine is proud that her son is playing for the team he loves: “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.”
With a donation from the Julian Speroni fund and funding from the Premier League and the BT disability programme, the team has met its target of a chair per player – no mean feat, when you consider each chair cost around £6,000. As more players join the team, the Foundation continues to rely on fundraising and the free use of Waddon Leisure Centre, which is offered by Croydon Council.
Palace goalkeeper, Julian Speroni is a keen supporter of the team and said: “Programmes like this are brilliant. We want to promote disability sport and make people aware that disability sport is available in and around Croydon so more people can enjoy it. It’s great what they do, these kids love to play football.”