Thursday 3rd December marks the United Nations’ International Day of People with Disabilities. The global day of celebration aims to spread awareness and understanding of disabilities. To mark the occasion, we spoke to Fulham Foundation’s Fulham Badgers Down's Syndrome team and pan-disability team player, Tom Prisk.
Tom has represented Fulham at tournaments across the country, taking place in Premier League stadiums. He was also the face of a major Wembley Stadium campaign, with his photo shared in front of thousands of supporters to help blow the whistle on discrimination and anti-social behaviour.
We were also joined for our interview by Tom’s mother Sue, who told us more about the incredible work of the Foundation in supporting her son, his teammates as well as their families.
Tom, what was it which made you want to start playing football in the first place?
Tom Prisk [TP]: “Oh wow. I played in college before with friends, [I was a defender] and I had to keep the ball away from the different teams we played.
Sue Prisk [SP]: “Tom went away to residential college and represented the college in matches in Shropshire. And that’s where Tom fell in love with the game”.
Were you playing regularly at college?
TP: “Yes, travelling around the area playing matches in Shropshire. When I was playing there I also went and played in Wales”
SP: “As part of the college they organised trips at weekends, so they went to all the local Premier League matches”.
TP: “I loved it. We went to Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Manchester City and Stoke. It was three-years at college, and I went a lot.”
You’ve played a lot a football. How has playing football and being part of a team benefited you?
TP: “I am fitter and healthier. During lockdown too, doing fitness activities and quizzes online four times a week with my football friends. This is all thanks to Fulham Foundation.”
SP: “During lockdown the Foundation have provided online quizzes four times a week for the football teams. Tom is part of Pan Disability Football and the Fulham Football Foundation Down's Syndrome Association’s team ‘Fulham Badgers’ which all sits under the Fulham umbrella. They do Monday night and Tuesday night online fitness sessions and on Thursday and Friday nights they have quizzes. It’s an hour and a half almost every weekday night during lockdown.”
TP: “Yes, it’s been really fun for me”.
That sounds great – is it a football quiz?
TP: “Yes, and sometimes it’s pretty hard questions!”
SP: “They have lots of different rounds - some are nice and easy for Tom (football related!) and some more tricky! Sometimes they have themes like Harry Potter or The Simpsons so it’s a lovely mix of questions and topics.”
TP: “Yes – they did a musical theatre quiz and I knew some of that!”
SP: “Tom’s part of a fantasy football team and his knowledge of football is quite exceptional. He's learnt a lot and his skills have improved. During Lockdown Fulham Foundation were sending us an email with a routine where we had to record his activities every day.”
TP: “Yes, it included toe touches, stepovers and dribbling around cones. In the next few weeks I have to be a coach and have to train my mum and dad.”
And is this related to fitness activities?
SP: “Yes, it is, he has to use his coaching skills by demonstrating what needs to be done and then he coaches us through it and he has to video it and send it to the Foundation. We need to provide evidence! So far, he’s chosen his dad to teach - he is really good at it!”
And is this related to fitness activities?
SP: “Yes, it is, he has to use his coaching skills by demonstrating what needs to be done and then he coaches us through it and he has to video it and send it to the foundation. We need to provide evidence! - So far, I have not done it but my husband has, he is really good at it.”
Did your dad get you into football in the first place?
TP: “Yes, he is brilliant.”
Is Fulham your family team? Were you a Fulham fan before you played for them?
TP: “Yes I was a fan before.”
SP: “Tom and his dad are season ticket holders, so they have been going to the games when it was still allowed, to every single home match for years. We are Fulham through and through!”
Tom in Scott Parker's press conference seat
How does it feel when you put on the shirt and you play for Fulham?
TP: “It’s amazing. I feel proud, proud to wear the badge.”
SP: “To actually be a part of it and for it to be your team, as Tom says, it’s amazing.”
You have been involved in other ways with club, were you the mascot at one point?
TP: “Yes I was.”
SP: “That is one of his most memorable moments. Before this interview Tom was reminding me of all the times he has represented Fulham.”
TP: “Yes, and I have been to the Emirates for a tournament, and to Birmingham.”
SP: “He went on the first team’s coach to Birmingham, which was very special.”
How did that happen?
TP: “Yes, we went on one of the team’s coaches to Birmingham.”
SP: “Fulham Foundation also work with the Down's Syndrome Association, and it was a Down's Syndrome Association National event and Tom’s team, Fulham Badgers, were sent to Birmingham for the tournament and allowed to travel on the first team coach, which Tom said was amazing”.
TP: “I loved that part”
SP: “His dad went with him for that! Tom also played at Stamford Bridge in a national Pan Disability Tournament where there were lots of different teams – like Crystal Palace Foundation. There were even a couple of international teams attending. It was a huge event hosted by the Chelsea Foundation. Each of the different football clubs sent their teams over to compete. That was a wonderful day wasn’t it Tom? Really well organised.”
TP: “Yes, I loved it.”
So what are your most memorable moments?
TP: “Taking part in the Fulham 140-year celebration and meeting the team for a photoshoot.”
SP: “For the 140-year anniversary Fulham FC wanted to do a photoshoot with the first team and representatives from various community activities run by the Foundation, and they asked Tom if he’d like to take part. We went along to Craven Cottage for a photoshoot and we thought Tom’s photo would then be edited and photoshopped into another photograph. But as you were having the photograph taken on the pitch who came along Tom?”
TP: “I saw Tom Cairney, Aleksander Mitrovic, Denis Odoi and Ryan Sessegnon – it was brilliant.”
Tom with Ryan Sessegnon, Denis Odoi, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Tom Cairney at Fulham FC's 140 year anniversary celebration
SP: “Tom was standing on the pitch when some of the players suddenly appeared, and they took a photo of all of them together. It was something that we weren’t told that would happen and that was lovely. Tom sat in the middle of Denis Odoi and Aleksander Mitrovic! Denis Odoi leant over to Tom and said, “Am I your favourite?”
TP: “I said no! [laughs]”
SP: “They had a bit of a laugh, but Denis Odoi said, “No, I'm going to be your favourite. Next time you come to a match tell me where you sit”. So, Tom told him where his seat was.”
TP: “At the next game I put my hand up and Odoi was looking around and he saw me and waved at me and shouted my name! He’s so kind.”
“It provides richness to all of our life's”
SP: “Tom did a ‘Pathways to Employment’ Internship with the Foundation for three months and as part of that he had the chance to work at the training ground. He was working at the warehouse for their online shop at the Training ground and when Denis Odoi was training he popped into the warehouse a few times to say hi to Tom. I thought that showed just what an incredibly kind player Odoi is.”
Tom with Fulham FC Defender, Denis Odoi
What has been your most memorable moment?
TP: “I got to walk onto the pitch and I was on TV. I walked on with Aleksander Mitrovic, my hero. It was last year against Charlton in the Championship.”
SP: “That was very, very special. I think it’s every football fan’s dream getting to walk onto the pitch with your favourite player.”
Tom with his hero, Aleksandar Mitrovic
I know you’re grateful of the support from Fulham Foundation and Katy Shepherd, and wanted to say thank you to them personally.
TP: “Yes I do. I want to thank Katy Shepherd and Coach Andrew. I would also like to thank Coach Sophie.”
SP: “Katy is an absolute legend. What she has done during lockdown has been incredible. I think I speak on behalf of all the parents in thanking her for uniting all the players with disabilities together. Just incredible.”
As a parent, how does the work of Fulham Foundation support you as a family, and with Tom’s own personal development, not just in lockdown?
SP: “They’ve managed to create a strong community of people sharing the same passion. The friendship and community they have amongst each other is fantastic. It’s wonderful when they play football together but also outside of that, through FaceTime calls, and meeting up for bowling or pizza - it provides richness not just to Tom but to all of our lives. Last year we took part in a sponsored walk for the Foundation - there were so many people involved and it highlighted for me how fortunate we are to be part of the Foundation.”
“Laughter and fun during what could have been the hardest time”
It’s great getting to meet all the parents too. Going to these events and meeting the parents makes us feel part of a larger group. Last year we took part Fulham Foundation’s first Carol Service which was lovely. The community seems to go from strength to strength and new people who come into the Foundation often say that they feel very welcome in the group.
I think that during lockdown the group have got even closer. There have been online virtual sessions for an hour and a half which Tom takes part in 4 times every week and it’s absolutely amazing. I tend to not get involved in them but it’s great to hear laughter and fun during what could have been the hardest time.
Fulham have gone from strength to strength in terms of their provision. For us, that input has been invaluable and without that, it would have been very different for us as parents. My husband and I have got nothing but praise and thanks. It is difficult to put into words how grateful we are. I know that is how other people feel as well. The Foundation Team are quite extraordinary.
Finally, what advice would you give to any other people with disabilities who might be thinking of getting involved in football?
TP: “Just do it. Come join the club, don’t feel shy”
SP: “What I think is lovely is that whenever someone new joins they are welcomed by everybody and seen as an addition to the Fulham family”.
To find out more about the opportunities to get involved with disability football in Surrey, please click here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.