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Glentoran inclusion football club - Belfast

Copyrights: Glentoran Inclusion FC

Glentoran inclusion football club - Belfast

The Glentoran Inclusion FC is a football club established in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which allows children, youth and adults with disabilities to join a football team and be part of an inclusive recreational sport.

We are a club that has our foundations in a disability football team which was taken over by Glentoran FC. The club was established as Glentoran Disability FC in March 2016 and renamed as Glentoran Inclusion FC in 2020. In 2019, we were awarded a UEFA Bronze award.

We cater for ambulant individuals aged 5 to adult who experience health or social exclusion issues. The majority of our squad have issues ranging from learning disabilities and ADHD to being on the autism spectrum. We also have individuals who experience mental health issues and others who are recovering substance abusers. We have one individual with hearing difficulties, and he wears cochlear implants. We are a diverse range of people united by a love of football, a love of competition, a love of sport and a desire to feel involved and accepted.

The club is run separately from Glentoran FC. We have our own training schedule and organized matches for both juniors and seniors.

Challenges in inclusion

We don’t experience any difficulties in including individuals with disabilities in our club, as we cater for disability and meet diversity by adapting training sessions to meet need and ability. So, we streamline our squad on an ability basis and adapt training sessions to meet everyone’s needs. We play matches against similar ability banded teams to ensure fairness and competitiveness and to make matches enjoyable for all.

Our main challenges are gaining recognition for our players’ abilities and gaining financial support to fund our club’s activities. Whilst we are aligned to a large football club, Glentoran FC, we have to fund and finance ourselves. We try to overcome prejudice by promoting our matches and club’s activities through social media.

Gaining recognition

More organized leagues and more visibility and development of disability sports would help in getting higher participation rates. More events, tournaments and inclusion in mainstream football events would also improve our social visibility and recognition of ability.

None of the organized football events within Northern Ireland include a disability section as part of their organized events. They ignore disability football and only include elite teams, to the detriment of inclusive football and ‘football for all’. This only works to perpetuate prejudice and social exclusion.

Clubs lack disability awareness and coaches lack the ability, techniques, understanding and motivation to coach players from diverse backgrounds with diverse abilities. Coaches simply cherry-pick, rather than develop and train. Some may find that offensive, but I speak from experience and listening to coaches and clubs attempts to justify their prejudice.

Moving forward

Disability football is driven by individuals who are informed about disability issues, informed by football knowledge, motivated by a desire to include people, and a desire to build players and teams. These individuals are in short supply and most, like myself, are the parent of a disabled child/adult. It is disappointing that clubs do not support their disability sections more and it is disappointing that more coaches do not enter disability football, even in a part-time capacity. Perhaps these mainstream coaches lack the ability and fail to accept their inadequacy.

Our club is driven by desire, motivated by inclusion and maintained by ability. I coach four nights a week with two junior teams and one senior squad. We play matches weekly and league matches monthly. How many mainstream coaches with cherry-picked teams are able to follow that schedule? Disability football is not for the faint hearted!

Mark Smith is the Head Coach of Glentoran Inclusion FC.


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Mark Smith


Wednesday, November 25, 2020 - 15:20

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