Deaf Sports Events12th May 2014

EDF League Final Sees St John's Deaf FC Take the Spoils

In the north versus south English Deaf Football league finals, St Johns overcome Sunderland

by Sarah Lawrence

The England Deaf Football league competition sees teams from England and one from Wales competing throughout the year to be named the best team in the country. With teams from as far apart as Sunderland and Cardiff, the competition is split into a north and south division, with teams in each section playing each other home and away throughout the football season. At the end of the season, the teams at the top of their respective leagues, play off to win the coveted EDF league champions cup.

For the 2013/2014 season and following a great end of season run, Sunderland, the north division winners played St. Johns, the southern champions. With the team from Sunderland only joining the EDF league for the first time this year, their place in the final represented a significant achievement.

This year’s playoff took place on Saturday 9th May at the Calverton Miners Football Club just outside Nottingham. Travelling from South Wales to the ground in readiness for the 2 o’clock kick off, we had driven through all types of weather, with strong winds driving heavy rain showers across the exposed pitch. The mix of rain and sun had at least given a lush green pitch, but a little longer than you would usually find at a football ground, the EDF team quickly arranged for the staff to give the goalmouth area a quick trim before the game started.  With only four teams having their name on the cup was introduced in 2005, we were guaranteed a new name on the cup, the previous winners being, Doncaster, Whitely Bay, Everton and Charlton.

A quick chat to Sunderland’s Scott Garthwaite, aka The Punk Chef before the game, I learned that whilst this was the first appearance in the finals for Sunderland, Scott had previously played in the final on three occasions. Having travelled down to Leeds the week before to see St Johns in the British Deaf Football Plate final, he was looking forward to the game.

Run to the international representative level of 55 decibel hearing loss in the best ear, the referee and officials made their way onto the pitch armed with a flag to be waved to indicate that the game had stopped. In fact, throughout the match, the referee officiated by only waving his flag at times, a significant difference to the referee in the England and Wales rugby international later that day, when only the whistle was used.


With the Cup proudly on display, the teams walked onto the pitch led out by Captains Colin Crompton and Andrew Coombs. With Crompton winning the toss, he elected to play with the wind at their backs, and from the kick off, Sunderland were pegging St John’s back into their half.

Five minutes into the game, a lovely long ball was played out to Sunderland’s Dan Chapelhow on the right who put in a speculative cross towards the St. John’s penalty area. With the strong, gusty wind catching the ball, it was suddenly destined to drop just inside the cross-bar before a panicked Ali Er in the St John’s goal, clambered backwards to claw the ball away from his goal. It was an early warning about the difficult conditions.

A minute later Sunderland were impressing again with Robert Keegan dashing down the wing and putting in a decent cross into the box, which was cleared away by the defence. The first of the heavy downpours arrived shortly afterwards, and against driving wind and rain, St Johns were struggling to get a foothold in the game in these early stages.

The first foul of the game came shortly afterwards, with Sunderland awarded a free-kick about 35 yards out from goal. With Sunderland players pouring forwards, number 10 Ryan Thompson tried his luck but mishit the shot which did not worry the keeper and went over the line for a goal kick.

Eight minutes were on the clock before St. Johns finally managed to get out of their half in any meaningful way, the nippy Marios Costi making a break down the left. With a lunging challenge missing the ball, the number ten managed to stay on his feet and drive towards the goal, only to overrun the ball and give away a relieving free-kick.

Gathering momentum into the game, Memnos Costi put the first of many decent throughballs into the box for striker Omid Khanbabaighara to run on to. Challenging the keeper and a defender for the ball, the St John’s player got a toe on the ball to poke it towards goal. Looking every bit the opener, Sunderland’s Dan Walker appeared in the nick of time to clear the ball off the line.

In an increasingly even contest, the St John’s midfield were starting to impose themselves on the game, and with the rain shower clearing through, Marios Costi broke down the right, his attempted cross blocked, going out for a corner. Initially cleared away, St Johns were back on the attack again with another Memnos Costi through ball giving Omid another chance to attack the box. Challenging the on-rushing keeper to a 50/50 ball, the keeper Cameron Sweeney took a blow to the face requiring a few minutes treatment.

Keeper Ali Er was the first player to be cautioned in the game. Coming out to meet a long Sunderland through-ball. The keeper misjudged the edge of his box, handling the ball outside his area. With the referee indicating the free-kick, the keeper kicked the ball away wildly in frustration and promptly found his name going into the referee’s book. From the resulting free-kick, Ryan Thompson laid the ball off to Jordan Magnish who put in a tremendous shot curling just inside the right hand upright, with Er making a tremendous save, just tipping the ball around the post.

A further period of sustained Sunderland pressure followed, with all but the players bar the Black Cats keeper pushing into the St John’s half, but despite the pressure, Sunderland could not find a decent chance at goal. Half an hour in to the game, the heavens opened again and whilst a few fouls were given away on the slippery surface, this was a game being played with great spirit and respect for the opposition.

In an even game, Sunderland Captain Crompton and St John’s midfield General Memnos Costi displayed great quality, both players always pushing their team forward and putting in some telling passes for their wide players to run on to.

With half time looming, another ball was put through into the box for Sunderland’s Chapelhow to take an early strike at goal, the shot just wide of the goal.

Breaking out, the game saw another high quality passage of play between brothers Memnos and Marios Costi, only for the latter’s attempted cross to be blocked. In a largely open game, the game ebbed and flowed with each time pushing hard for the opening goal. The half was brought to a close following another decent effort on goal from Chapelhow, the keeper again making a save.

With the wind now at their back, St Johns emerged into the second half looking determined, and within a minute their attacking intentions were evident with their right back pushing forward with the ball to attack the Sunderland back line, only for keeper Crompton to slide in aggressively, with a perfectly timed sliding tackle.

A couple of minutes into the half St Johns were in-front. The dangerous Marios Costi received the ball on the left hand side of the box and making himself some room, he took a shot at goal. With the keeper beaten, the ball hit the right-hand upright, bouncing back out into the middle of the penalty area where Kimahrie Lee was lunging into the area, to tap the ball into the net.

Responding immediately to the goal, Sunderland Manager Anthony Smare brought on experienced striker Scott Garthwaite, hoping the TV chef could cook up something tasty to get them back into the game. As it was, it was St Johns that would get the next half chance at goal, Marios Costi, again receiving the ball wide out on the right. Taking on several defenders, he worked a tiny bit of space to take a shot, curling the ball with his right foot superbly inside the right-hand post, giving the keeper Sweeney no chance. 

Two goals behind, Sunderland introduced both Calum Donkin and Callum Fox into the game. The substitutions brought another period of Sunderland pressure but the St John’s defence remained steadfast, heading clear on several occasions and seemingly intent on keeping a clean sheet. But for some brilliant keeping, Sunderland could have gone three down, Marios Costi again being released on goal from his own half, but closing in to snatch his second, Sweeney made a brilliant save to keep his time in the match.

As Sunderland pushed forward, further chances followed for the St John’s front line, but desperate defending kept them from going further ahead. With St Johns increasingly dominant in mid-field, it was Sunderland’s turn to struggle to get out of their half as time ticked away. A series of chances fell to St Johns before a late surge by Sunderland in the game, Callum Fox narrowly missing out on a decent strike on a crossed ball.

That miss proved to be the last good chance for either side, as St Johns closed down quickly in midfield, giving the Sunderland players limited time on the ball. Comfortably holding the lead, the referee brought the game to a close, announcing St Johns as the EDF League Champions. The brave souls who had turned out to support the teams had witnessed a decent game of football played in great spirit. Sunderland’s journey to the final had been remarkable, as described by manager Anthony Smare.

“This is one of the proudest moments in my football career. I started this team from nothing. I found players from mainstream schools using Facebook and Twitter and I encouraged an open deaf culture policy. That means that all deaf footballers are welcome, no matter their background, oral or sign, and we respect each other as individuals  and as a team.

The final was an excellent game, my heart was pounding throughout! I was amazed that this is a team that we set up only a year ago.” Combative Captain Colin Crompton added, “I think it’s important to look back on today and be proud of what we have achieved. The medal might say runners up, but I think it’s important that we do not see today as letting ourselves down. This time last year Sunderland Deaf AFC wasn't even a glint in Anthony Smare’s eye. We’ve come a long way from the team who lost 10 – 0 in their first game.”

​Lifting the Cup, St Johns can be proud of their achievement and with many youngsters in their side, they may be a force to be reckoned with for some time to come. Equally, we hope the Sunderland team basked in their glory during their journey home, announcing themselves as serious contenders for future honours. 


Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Sport / Deaf Sports Events

12th May 2014