This summer current University of Exeter student Robin Williams (PhD. Statistics) competed for Team GB in the blind five-a-side football event at the 2012 Paralympic games. Robin reports on his rollercoaster experience at the ‘Greatest show on Earth’.
I competed in the London Paralympics as a member of the GB 5-a-side (blind) football team. After two years of dedication to the sport, training both here in Exeter where three Team GB members are based, and travelling to GB squad training on a frequent basis, my selection for the Paralympics was confirmed in April. We had targeted a medal for the games, an ambitious target given that we were yet to win a major trophy and came third in the European Championships last year. However, we felt there was enough potential in the team to realise this ambition, and it would be a matter of whether that potential could be harnessed in time for London.
After drawing our first game with Spain in a fairly disappointing performance (not least from myself), we took a point from Argentina for the first time in the sixteen years that international blind football has existed. The Argentina game was my best performance in the group stage; I got some joy running at them without ever really threatening the goal. These results meant that we had to win our next game against Iran by two clear goals to make the semi-finals. Sadly we played as though this was the case, the first half was a very nervy affair, we conceded several fouls and Iran capitalised, scoring from a long penalty. We dominated the second half, hitting the woodwork twice and forcing an outstanding performance from the Iranian keeper, but sadly couldn’t find the net. In a cruel twist of fate, having been a game away from a shot at a medal, we found ourselves playing the 2008 silver medallists China in a match for the minor placings. China themselves were expected to make the semi-finals, and after an exciting 1-1 draw (probably our best team performance) we lost on penalties – as you can only expect from a GB team! In the 7-8 place play offs we beat Turkey convincingly 2-0, in a match where I enjoyed my best performance.
Brazil were worthy tournament winners, their number 10, Ricardo Steinmetz Alves is probably the best player in the world and lit up the final with a fantastic display. He is certainly something for me to aspire to.
I left the Paralympics with mixed feelings over my personal performance. I had played some of my best and worst football throughout the tournament, an inconsistency that I feel is a result of being fairly new to the game. Playing at international level was also a real challenge. There is a domestic league in this country, but the step up to international level is so large that it’s almost like playing a different sport. I have a lot to work on, not least my game awareness, speed of thought, and of course the constant drive to improve skill.
Our support throughout the games was superb; the 3,500 River Bank Stadium was full for all of our group games, and nearing capacity for the 7th place playoff. All our games were shown live on the Channel4 network, I believe three were shown on Channel4 itself with the others on a temporary Sky channel. London 2012 has raised the profile of the blind 5-a-side football no end, hopefully we will reap the rewards of this by encouraging young players for future.
Stepping outside of our football bubble, it was a fantastic privilege to be a part of the London 2012, which were certainly the best games ever and pushed Paralympic sport far beyond anything previously, both in terms of profile and sporting ability. I hope to compete in Rio2016.