As part of our #ThisIsSurreyFootball campaign, we spoke to Fulham Foundation’s Disability Development Officer, Katy Shephard.
In the two years that Katy has been at Fulham Foundation they have seen an increase in numbers at their sessions. Within this period they have also started up more disability-specific sessions to ensure everyone can play and enjoy the game.
We spoke to Katy about the impact on the Foundation over the last few months and what they have been during this challenging period. We also delved into Katy’s own story and asked her about her journey in football and when she decided she wanted to work in Disability Football. We also spoke to her about the most memorable moments during her career. Katy also provided some insight into the challenges clubs may face when creating new disability teams.
When did you first get involved in football?
‘I started coaching when I was at college, where I was on a sports course and I got offered to do my Level 1 as part of the course.
I fell in love with it straight away and then went on a couple of years later to do my Level 2.’
Why did you want to work in disability football?
‘I think it started when I was at primary school. I actually had a young man in my class that had Down’s Syndrome and I used to work with him in the class and help him out. Obviously back then it was before the time of[Teaching Assistants] in classrooms and I used to just work with him in small groups.
I just kind of fell in love with working with him and helping him with what he needed. I think from then I had this enjoyment of working with people and helping people. Seeing him smiling in class even though he was the same age as me [and]seeing him do his work was kind of awesome to me too.
I first started coaching when I got my Level 1 badge, when I was 16 or 17, and then where I was at the time, there was a group of young people with disabilities turning up to a session every week. The coach that was running it was leaving and they were going to stop the session. I then said, “I’ll do it!” and 17-18 years on I am still doing it.
Tell us more about your role with Fulham Foundation?
‘I have been at Fulham Foundation for two years now. I am the Disability Development Officer, so my role is to organise and run activities and sessions that allow people with any type of disability to become involved.
When I first started here, we had our Fulham Badgers, which is our Down Syndrome group and we had our Active Autism group that was already running. We’ve continued to develop them, and we’ve put in place Junior Pan Disability Football, Adult Pan Disability Football, we run sessions for those who are blind and partially sighted, and we’ve got our schools coaching programme, where we go into schools and coach in the schools. So just organising and running all of that!’
What have Fulham Foundation been doing throughout lockdown for your disability participants?
When we knew we weren’t going to be able to do face to face sessions and everything was suspended I was really keen to keep that interaction with the young people [going]. I’m conscious that a lot of people with disabilities are more likely to be isolated and parents having a lot of things going on [were] needing that extra support as well.
What we decided to do was create four sessions a week online for our different groups. This gave them access to a weekly session so they could see all the coaches and faces that they are used to. We do quizzes, warm-ups, physical challenges, skills and just have an absolutely great time!
We decided we wanted to put back in a little bit of competition for them as well, which is something they have been missing out on. We set up online fixtures against other clubs and within the 14 weeks we engaged with over 120 players from Fulham and other teams in online fixtures. It was the same sort of format with quizzes, warm-ups, physical challenges and skills with everyone trying to earn ‘goals’ for their team.
There were some big scores but also some great, fun evenings.’
What challenges may clubs face when creating disability teams?
‘I think there’s quite a few, obviously some of them are the same as a mainstream club in the sense of the funding, staff and venues. I think a key point is the knowledge of the coaches and young people they are working with or potentially going to work with.
I [also] think [clubs should] just get the message out to the right people that might like to play. To say, “Our club is inclusive, it is for everyone, come and have a go”. Breaking down those barriers is [one] of the biggest challenges.’
Finally, what has been your most memorable moment working in disability football?
‘There’s been quite a few to be fair I have to say, I haven’t really got one big memory. Obviously to see the smiles on their faces every time they play football is one of the biggest things. Getting to play at some great venues that they probably thought they’d never play at such as Premier League pitches and training grounds.
One of the highlights I suppose would be when I took a team to Germany to play in a tournament to represent their club and country. The development of the players and seeing the bonds that they created with the coaches. Some of them have never been out of England let alone been out of England without their parents so it was quite a big thing.
Seeing a few of the players over the last couple of years, grow up and represent England in the Cerebral Palsy or the Blind and Partially Sighted teams and thinking that I’ve had a bit of a hand in that, is quite a proud moment.’
To book onto one of Fulham Foundation’s Online Disability Sessions, click here.
To find out more about the work of Fulham Foundation, click here.