Deaf Sports Events5th May 2014

Belfast take the spoils in British Deaf Football Cup Finals

The British Deaf Football Cup has been contested since 1959 and this year saw Belfast regain the trophy

by Sarah Lawrence

British Deaf Football has a long and proud history in the United Kingdom, dating back to 1871 when Glasgow Deaf Athletic Football Club was formed. As well as being the oldest deaf football club in the world, it is also one of the oldest sports clubs. Given the history, it is pleasing to see that deaf football is thriving today with 25 active clubs spread around the whole of Britain.

Whilst some of these teams compete in mainstream football, the majority also take part in the England Deaf Football Leagues as well as in the British Deaf Football Cup each year. The latter has been running since 1959 and culminates in a finals day when teams compete for the Cup and Plate trophies. The Cup is contested by the two teams who have won in each round of the competition. Teams knocked out in Round 1, go on to compete for the Plate, thereby ensuring all teams have the opportunity to go on a ‘cup run’.

This year’s finals were held on Saturday 3rd May at Garforth Town Football Club, just outside Leeds.

If you asked players what they wanted for perfect conditions for football, that is what they had, a largely clear sky with whispy clouds, light cooling breeze keeping temperatures to 15ºC and a dry grassy surface that still took a stud. It was perfect and be-fitting of these final matches.

Catching up with Vaughan Jenkins, the President and Martin Lewis the Director/Co-ordinator of Great Britain Deaf Football before the games, I was chatting to the men who had been at the helm of British Deaf Football for the last 28 years, the continued popularity of the competition owing much to their commitment and organisational skills.

Talking about Garforth Town FC, Martin Lewis said, “I would like to thank them for their wonderful hospitality, ground staff for a beautiful pitch, for providing wonderful facilities such as dressing rooms, food, drinks and refreshments. Just a great welcome.” Looking forward to the game, Martin was enthusiastic about the Cup match, “It will be an interesting game because both teams easily won in the semi finals with Belfast beating Glasgow 3 -1 and Fulham beating Colchester 4-1. Both teams are on par with each other. It will be very interesting to see what happens.”
Vaughan Jenkins, agreed with Martin's comments and added, “Fulham are last year's champions so it will be interesting to watch.”

The Cup was being contested by reigning champions Fulham and the team from Belfast, who were making their fourth appearance in the final in the last 6 years. Looking fit and athletic, these players take their football seriously and I found myself wondering why there had not been a deaf player at the top level of football since Liverpool’s Jimmy Case, more than 20 years ago. Speaking casually to some of the young stars of deaf football, they have little doubt that their deafness has held them back.

Maintaining the international standard throughout deaf football, players must have an average hearing loss of 55 decibels or more in their best ear to qualify to play. This meant that many of the players communicated during the game using sign language and the referee, Peter Walker, waved a white handkerchief as well as blowing his whistle to show the game had stopped. “We use a flag or a bib to get the players attention basically”, explained Peter before the game. “My two assistants will be raising their flag at the moment in time as well when I've blown, so everybody knows that something’s happened that we need to stop the game for.” Little things please me and learning that experienced referee Peter was being assisted on the day by young up-coming officials Jordan and Jessica, his son and daughter, made me smile.

With pre-match interviews completed, officials ready and teams in their positions, we were under way. In a cagey start to the game, both teams passed the ball around easily, with little pressure on the man in possession. With early momentum swinging towards Belfast and with skipper Roy McKee barking orders to his players, the first decent chance fell to Belfast striker Brian Babb who was put through on goal, only for Fulham keeper Sam Kemp to expertly smother the striker’s shot on goal.

The Fulham mid-field started to gain some momentum in the game but with their back line playing a high line, it looked as though Joe Wylde had been put through on goal, 9 minutes into the game, only for the touch judge’s flag to be raised, ruling him to be off-side. In perfect conditions and on a great playing surface, the bounce of the ball was consistent and there were very few early errors as both teams tried to apply pressure. With 15 minutes on the clock, it was Belfast who had the first sustained period of pressure with four shots in quick succession inside the box, all of which were blocked by determined defenders.

Looking strong and threatening in possession, Brian Babb met a cross on the 20 minute mark to put in a great header on goal, only for keeper Kemp to save superbly in the left hand corner of the goal, pushing the ball inches wide of the post. With the game starting to look like a one-sided affair, Fulham’s hard working number 8, Nick Gregory, was put through on goal by a great pass from Jacob Wills, only for his shot to balloon over the bar under pressure from keeper Roy Keating.

In an increasingly even battle, the next great chance was again to be Fulham’s, when Wills struck the ball goal bound from 6 yards out, bringing an amazing save from keeper Keating. With Fulham’s confidence rising, a foul 30 yards out on the half hour mark, gave Belfast an opportunity to throw their big players forward. With everyone expecting a floated ball into the box, Noel O’Donnell struck a fine attempt at goal, that had keeper Kemp clutching at thin air. Catching the underside of the bar, the ball bounced down and out to the centre of the area, where skipper McKee calmly knocked the ball back into the net, to give Belfast a 1 – 0 half-time lead.

Into the second half, influential Belfast midfielder Richard Beattie continued to impose himself on the game. With just 3 minutes on the clock, the ball was played up to Brian Babb on the edge of the box. With a suspicion of handball, he knocked the ball down and past the defender and found the back of the net with a shot from a narrow angle left of the goal.

To Fulham’s credit and with urgent signed messages between players, they fought hard to get back into the game and a series of close chances followed from skipper Jonathan Evans and substitute Daniel Hogan. With continued pressure, several further chances fell to Fulham and with tensions rising, a series of fouls followed requiring words of advice from referee Peter Walker.

Despite McKee demanding greater composure on the ball from his midfield players, Fulham continued to press and a good effort from Hogan from 35 yards out brought another good save from keeper Keating. Chances continued to flow from Fulham but it seemed they were destined not to be able to put the ball in the net. Two minutes into injury time, their luck was to change when Hogan put in a cross into the box from the right. Defenders failed to clear as the ball reached Ben Lampert who struck the ball into the net, bringing the game to 2 – 1. Knowing there was little time left in the game, Fulham players were asking for a few more minutes, but the referee brought the game to close, shortly after the re-start, with Belfast claiming the prized Great Britain Deaf Football Cup for the third time in four years.

The elation of the players at the end of the game showed just what this meant to the players and all attached to the club. With great sportsmanship from most of the players, Fulham roundly applauded Captain McKee as he was presented with the Cup. Catching up with Man of the Match Richard Beattie after the game he commented, “This is my third final in 5 years and I never expected to be a man of the match but I am delighted and for my team to win is a bonus. We were nervous at the start, but we quickly focused on the game. We wanted to win for our fans, family, friends and everyone in Belfast and Northern Ireland.”

Although on the losing side on this occasion, Fulham’s Nick Gregory told me, “Obviously I'm gutted we lost, but I thought it was a very good match, both teams played fair, respected each other and worked hard. They had an opportunity to score both goals, we had plenty of chances but didn't score. A credit and very well done to them. This year the football standard is much higher than it has been in previous years in all games including the first round. It is good to see. In the last 5 years it has been Fulham and Belfast in the finals. Fulham, Belfast, Belfast, Fulham and Belfast this year.”

After a brief lunch break for organisers and officials, attention turned to the Plate final between St. John’s Deaf Football Club and Doncaster Trust Deaf Football Club. Having commendably made the long journey from Sunderland to support both the Cup and Plate matches, members and supporters from Sunderland Deaf FC helped maintain a decent atmosphere in the stands. We look forward to seeing Sunderland’s game next weekend in the English Deaf Football League Final in Nottingham when they take on St. John’s themselves.

Under the ever-watchful eye of referee Peter Walker, the Plate final got underway. With many of the players knowing each other well through GB representative football neither team wanted to risk outright attack and the early stages of the game saw players standing off. The first chance in the game came from a St. John’s free kick 25 yards out. Taken by dangerous striker Daniel Ailey, the free kick failed to test Doncaster and GB keeper John Atkinson as it sailed over the bar.

A few minutes later, St. John’s were unlucky when the ball struck the crossbar from a well-taken corner. Despite plenty of possession and a series of chances from niggling fouls, neither Daniel Ailey or Jamie Clarke were able to make the breakthrough for St John’s. For Doncaster, striker Andrew Reay looked combative up front, demonstrating excellent skills for a big man and buying his team time by holding the ball up before laying it off to his supporting midfield players.

0 – 0 at half time, St. John’s had enjoyed most of the possession, but everyone involved knew this was still anyone’s game.

The second half started much the same as the first, with slow paced possession and some niggly fouls, the Doncaster defence determined not to let Daniel Ailey slide off the challenge and get in behind them. One foul too many saw Peter Wood get a yellow card, and the subsequent free kick into the box being met by a good goal bound header, with John Atkinson making the save on the line.

Seemingly on top again and waiting for their breakthrough, St. John’s allowed Doncaster to develop an attack, which saw striker Gareth Denmead through on goal and drilling the ball into the bottom corner past the keeper Hasan Er. Moments after the re-start and seemingly in disarray from going a goal behind, impressive Doncaster defender Seon Anderson ventured forward and chasing a pass into the box, he was hauled down by Er who was lucky to receive only a yellow card for the challenge.

With words of advice from Captain Atkinson, Gareth Denmead grabbed his second with a superbly taken penalty to the bottom right hand corner, giving the keeper no chance to make the save.

With Memnos Costi bringing himself on and instilling some pace into the game, St. John’s started pushing forward looking for a way back into the game. Throwing more players forward, gaps were left in their defence and Doncaster nearly went three up when put through on goal, but the effort was knocked over the bar. With impressive striker Reay holding the ball up well and with a hard working disciplined midfield, several more chances fell to Doncaster, with Gavin James trying a long ranged effort that was saved low down in the corner of the goal.

With the game opening up as the clock wound down, players started flying into the tackle resulting in a few names going into the referee’s book. In a final effort to get a break through, St. John’s gained some attacking momentum in the game, resulting in a couple of frenzied periods of activity in the penalty area and some last ditched clearances from the superb Doncaster defence, both Ailey and Xavier going close in those final minutes.

When the referees whistle blew for full time, Doncaster were crowned the worthy Plate winners. Receiving the Plate from guest of honour Andrea Hardwick, John Atkinson could not have been more delighted with the result. “What a fantastic feeling. It’s the best feeling because we won today and beat St. John’s twice within 2 weeks. Our strategy worked and it was well worth all the hard work. Respect to St Johns, there were lots of attacks from them in both games and we've just found a break through.”

With Gareth Denmead picking up the Man of the Match award, the Doncaster team were delighted with their day’s work.

Going off without a hitch, the Great Britain Deaf Football finals were a huge success for everyone involved. Garforth Town Football Club had been very accommodating and the players, officials, organisers and Martin Lewis in particular, should be proud of their efforts in maintaining the proud history of deaf football. Our congratulations to all concerned.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Sport / Deaf Sports Events

5th May 2014