TEENAGER Tom Emmerson is like pretty much every right back that’s ever pulled on a pair of football boots – he likes to crunch into a left winger when the opportunity arises.
The only difference between him and most soccer-mad lads is that such an opportunity doesn’t arise all that often.
The 14-year-old is profoundly deaf.
And that means – despite nutmegging your diarist (twice!) during a kickabout today – the youngster, of Hough Lane, Wombwell, Barnsley, rarely gets to play the game he loves. A lack of qualified coaches means joining a mainstream team isn’t possible.
Now all that will change this weekend when Sheffield’s first ever Deaf Football Festival is held. It will be followed, if demand is there, by the founding of a Sheffield Deaf Football Club.
The extravaganza will see 50 children, aged 6 - 16, take part in a day of coaching sessions, skill drills and mini matches at Goals Football Centre, in Norfolk Park, before being bused to Bramall Lane for a tour of the ground, a mascot meet and match day seats to see the Blades versus Preston North End.
“I can’t wait,” signs Tom, a pupil at Doncaster School For The Deaf, with 12-year-old step-brother Joseph Brown interpreting.
“Two years ago he had an improved hearing aid which meant he could hear certain things, like birds singing, for the first time,” says step mum Sharon Brown, herself a volunteer with the Sheffield Deaf Children’s Society. “I think he’s about as excited about this as he was about that.”
Several youngsters already play at the Sheffield and Hallamshire FA’s pan disability sessions.
“But in terms of playing for a mainstream football team it can be very intimidating,” explains Tom’s dad John, chairman of the SDCS. “It’s a very vocal sport and in Sheffield there are currently no coaches qualified in dealing with deaf children so the opportunities aren’t there. It’s a huge shame but it means the possible creation of a deaf team is a huge deal.”
Not just to Tom either, it seems.
The National Deaf Children’s Society – which, along with the Sheffield and Hallamshire FA and the Derek Dooley Football Academy is organising the day – reckons there are 800 deaf youngsters in the region with as many as 150 of them interested in regular footy sessions.
“We have set up teams in other cities, including Leeds and Liverpool, and the response is always outstanding,” says Tom Lyons, football development officer with the NDCS. “We reckon that in a city with Sheffield’s sporting heritage it would be the same here.
“It’s the next natural place to try and build a club. The idea is to eventually create a regional league so Sheffield Deaf Football Club would take on the likes of Leeds but the side would also be capable of playing mainstream teams too.”
The individual benefits, of course, are obvious.
For youngsters like Sunderland-mad Tom it means a chance to meet more friends, stay active, build confidence and, of course, crunch a left winger or two.
“I just love football,” he signs.
The festival runs Saturday 11am - 5pm. To register visit www.ndcs.org.uk/whatson or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0121 234 9822.