Power players at AFC Bournemouth Warriors

17 December 2018

Powerchair football is more popular than ever. AFC Bournemouth are the latest Premier League club to launch a powerchair football team. We chat to Cherries players about the buzz of playing for your local team.

Liam Drummond plays for AFC Bournemouth Warriors, and he’s feeling positive. The 21-year-old winger is captain of his boyhood club in their first season in the national league, where they are competing with the likes of Manchester United.

National squad captain Liam Drummond against Reading PFC in the cup

Liam plays powerchair football — a fast-paced, high-octane team sport for electric wheelchair users. Played in teams of four on a standard basketball court with rules similar to football, the squads often feature a mix of male and female players.

Several other big clubs now have their own powerchair football teams: Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, West Brom, Leeds and Manchester City are all involved.

Liam says:

‘It’s just amazing. I’ve been watching Bournemouth for years and years. I’ve always dreamed of playing for my local team.’

More opportunities

Liam is a supporter of Leonard Cheshire’s Can Do Sport programme, which aims to get more disabled people involved in sport and to break down barriers to participation.

The programme also encourages organisations to open up more opportunities for disabled people to play competitive sport. Premier League side AFC Bournemouth are doing just that.

After spending time with local Dorset-based powerchair football team Wessex Warriors, the south coast club wanted to get on board and soon proposed a merger. AFC Bournemouth Warriors launched in August 2018.

Steve Cuss, head of AFC Bournemouth Community Sports Trust, says:

‘We want to give the players the chance to enjoy playing, while providing opportunities to progress as individuals and as a team. We’re also keen to promote the game of powerchair football.

‘We’re delighted to have an AFC Bournemouth team and are looking forward to the season ahead.’

National squad players Regan Kemp, Ryan Skinner, Matt Adams, Liam Drummond and Josh Houchen with staff members Alex Dowding, Steve Cuss, Jordan Hayter, Hannah Powis and Kat Birtwell

Head coach and team secretary Hannah Powis now works for AFC Bournemouth as Disability Inclusion Development Officer, running a host of impairment-specific football sessions while coaching the club’s flagship powerchair football team.

Hannah says:

‘Joining with AFC Bournemouth means that the players have more opportunities to play against other big clubs, more opportunities to come and train, more coaches on board.

‘It’s really exciting. The two organisations can come together to provide the best we can for the players and the best we can for the community.’

Rapid progress

Since forming in 2015 as Wessex Warriors, the club have progressed at a rapid rate. Set up with support from the sport’s governing body, the Wheelchair Football Association (WFA), they already have teams in the second tier of the regional and national leagues. They also received crucial assistance from England captain Jon Bolding, a player they will face soon face in the WFA Cup in January.

In their last game as Wessex Warriors they won the Reading Tournament, taking a trophy back to Dorset.

Adapting quickly

The current season began this Autumn, and both teams are adapting quickly.

On their first day as AFC Bournemouth Warriors, the regional team travelled to Hertfordshire for their first round of league fixtures, finishing with an impressive 4-0 win against Faversham PFC.

Regan Kemp practising before cup game against Reading PFC

The national league side are off to a flyer after the first three rounds of fixtures, currently sitting second in the table.

After a challenging opening day, including a narrow defeat to current league leaders Manchester United, the team bounced back incredibly strongly. The league table looks impressive, with 10 wins in 13 matches and a goal difference of +32.

Honour

Long-serving player Matt Adams, 33, is enjoying the new season. Matt usually plays as a goalkeeper. During play, keepers in powerchair football can switch with players in another position — allowing Matt the chance to show his outfield skills.

He echoes his captain’s joy at representing AFC Bournemouth – and wearing the Cherries’ iconic red and black kit. He tells us:

‘It’s an honour to play for the team that I support. It’s one of the things I look forward to the most — putting on the Bournemouth shirt and representing the club.’

Giving youth a chance

The AFCB Warriors teams certainly have a strong youth policy. Chris King and Adam Sevenoaks are both aged 12. Like many of the squad, they watch their Cherries heroes play home and away.

Chris tells us:

‘I’ve always wanted to play a team sport. There weren’t many powerchair football clubs a few years ago.

‘Now, this is amazing. I’ve been coming to Bournemouth matches since I was six weeks old.’

Adam recalls several memorable moments, including lifting the trophy in the Reading Tournament and scoring a hat-trick against Crystal Palace. He adds:

‘I really like playing against the big clubs and I just love playing powerchair football. It means I can play a sport that my friends play.’

Social side

All the players concur with Adam’s comments about the social side of the sport.

Matt says:

‘Since I’ve been playing, I’ve made a lot of new friends. It’s improved my confidence through being around like-minded people.’

Liam adds:

‘We say it’s like a family, and this really is one of the best things about disability sport.

‘We find that when we go to tournaments like the national league in Nottingham, or the south east regional league, we know most of the other players and the other teams.

‘It’s a nice atmosphere because everyone is there for the love of the sport, and there’s a sense of community.’

Expanding the sport

Regional team star Adam Sevenoaks lifts the Reading Tournament trophy in the final game for Wessex WarriorsThe players hope that the backing of more football clubs will help expand the reach of powerchair football to more areas of the country.

The cost of specialist sports chairs, which can be up to £8.000, can be overcome.

The players are quick to point out that many clubs, including AFC Bournemouth, have trial chairs for players to use before they start fundraising. AFC Bournemouth have also part-funded sports chairs for four of the players.

Liam thinks that raising the profile of the sport is vital.

‘It’s about awareness and publicity. With some sports, it’s very easy and they’re already highly visible.

‘The smaller disability sports are not really in the public eye. People with severe disabilities are not aware of the team sports they could play.

‘There needs to be lots of events, taster sessions and backing from even more football clubs.’

Actually, I can

Liam feels some people who are interested in getting involved may think that they’ll be told they can’t. Fortunately, thanks to schemes like Can Do Sport, people are given support and begin to realise that ‘actually, I can.’

AFCB regional v Evergreen PFC

He tells us:

‘People might see a sport on TV and think "oh well. I can’t do that."

‘There’s a fear that sport might not be possible for them, or they might be told they can’t do it.

‘But more and more opportunities are opening up now, and sports clubs are more than happy to get people involved.’

Huge benefits

Hannah and the coaching team are delighted to see the huge benefits of powerchair football. They are now planning to offer additional educational programmes for all players.

Hannah tells us:

‘We’ve seen that people are getting so much out of powerchair football: gaining confidence, making new friends, playing as part of a team.

‘In this sport, they can join a team and get the same feeling as any non-disabled person playing for a team. That’s what it’s about. These guys play for AFC Bournemouth and they’re really good football players.’

Find out more about powerchair football

The sport’s governing body, the Wheelchair Football Association (WFA), has a wealth of information about the game and links to clubs throughout the UK.

Goals Beyond Grass is a UK powerchair football charity. They are launching a Festival of Powerchair Football: a four-day residential camp in Gloucestershire aimed at first-timers and experienced players.

Find out more about AFC Bournemouth Warriors

You can contact club secretary Hannah Powis, AFC Bournemouth’s Disability Inclusion Development Officer. Hannah can be reached via hannah.powis@afcb.co.uk.

You can also contact Steve Cuss, Steve Cuss, Head of AFC Bournemouth Community Sports Trust, via steve.cuss@afcb.co.uk.

Follow the progress of AFCB Warriors in 2018/19:

Check out the blog of Cherries player Matt Adams – A Game 4 Warriors.

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