How you can get involved in grassroots blind (B1) football in the UK through Project B1.
Includes audio interviews with Jonathan Pugh and Adam Bendall from the FA.
Historically underfunded and under-resourced, B1 blind football in the UK is beginning to get the attention, recognition and funding it deserves.
Recent coverage on BT sports of the national league and Channel 4’s excellent coverage of the sport during the Tokyo Paralympic Games are two great examples (Goalfix was the supplier of eyeshades for both tournaments).
Now the FA is running Project B1, an initiative that aims to develop the grassroot side of the game with accessible B1 training sessions at locations all over the UK. Temporarily paused due to Covid, the project is now in full swing.
With 18 hubs throughout the country (listed below), resources are being directed into developing B1 players, and the structures they need to participate and succeed.
Focus on youth
The focus of the project is on under 18s, with Goalfix developing a new red eyeshade for younger players in partnership with the project, but there are sessions available for all ages.
The project is funded by the FA and run through the Royal National College for the Blind which is delivering the project.
Project B1 offers visually impaired players the chance to play a small sided version of the game. This might be one vs one or two vs two, in safe, accessible spaces with dedicated coaching.
Project Lead Adam Bendall explains more, “we’re looking at ways to engage more people into blind football. It’s a tough game to play… So we needed a game that could bridge the gap between national league football and just starting out. We felt that using a smaller sided game would be the way to go.”
Difficulties with the current B1 football league structure
The current league structure is limited and very competitive, with numerous barriers to entry. Project B1 aims to break down these barriers and increase participation in the sport.
Until recently there were few opportunities at the grassroots level. For many years just 3 teams competed in a single B1 division. The standard is high and with so few teams, all are littered with international players.
This can make it very tough for newer players.
As Jonathan Pugh, Head Coach of the England Blind Football team tells us “The elite competition is good for senior players but can be daunting for new players, it would be a bit of a baptism of fire, to be honest. We want something that works across the pathway from grassroots all the way through to the elite level, so people come in and not feel too afraid to enjoy the game without that kind of pressure of winning.”
“One of the hardest things to do for a blind footballer when they first start playing is to go from isolated training drills and basic fundamental skills development to moving into game related activity. All of a sudden, you’ve gone from working with one coach, making it really safe and enjoyable, to the physicality of the game, and there’s a lot of contact.”
B1 teams in the midlands
The current geographic split of the national league teams has also been an issue: “The current three clubs around the country are Merseyside blind, in Liverpool, West Brom, in Birmingham and RMC in Hereford. So you can see it’s a North Midlands thing. But we’re very much needing to network out towards the south and north.”
Project B1 helps to address all these issues in a systematic way. With 18 new hubs across the country offering weekly and monthly sessions, access to the sport has never been easier.
“We try to link in with football clubs” says Jonathan, “because it’s great to have the badge linked into the environment, it captures a little bit of people’s imagination around football.”
As Adam tells me, “We’re working with quite a few pro clubs, they’re ranging from clubs in the south, such as Brighton, Bournemouth, Fulham. Then going up through to Stoke City in the Midlands, and then up into the north, as far as Middlesborough.”
So what can players expect from Project B1?
Adam is clear where the emphasis is, “Hopefully you’ll have fun! That’s the main premise of the project. We want to get people into playing blind football, making it fun at the start with maybe a view of moving through the pathway and represent England one day.”
Trained coaches will introduce players to the fundamentals of the game. “You’ll learn all the technical elements that you need to play blind football; control, passing, dribbling, shooting, but you’ll also learn social skills, communication side of things, how to work with a team mate, how to work with a guide, how to take on instructions and implement those instructions.” says Adam.
They hope this system will also improve retention, which has been an issue in the past. As Jonathan Pugh suggested above it can be difficult for new players coming into very competitive environments.
The new sessions will provide safer spaces for new people, as Phillipa Bass from British Blind Sport explains. “The sessions will instil those good habits, give a positive experience, create the opportunity for them. Hopefully we can keep them a lot longer than we’ve kept others.”
But it’s not just about creating the right conditions for players. Phillipa from BBS continues, “there’s also upscaling in the workforce needed. We want more coaches out there that know how to deliver blind football because it is a bit of a niche area. It is a little bit different to football, there’s lots of elements exactly the same… it’s just about having those extra tools in the box.”
And Adam has done lots of work on coaching the coaches to get the project up and running.
More Project B1 sessions in the future
At the moment this is just a pilot scheme but if successful the FA will look to build on it.
“The early indications are that it is [popular], and hopefully we can roll out into all areas across the UK.”
The project currently has over 80 players taking their first steps into the game.
Adam tells us that “..the more sessions going on, the more success we’re finding… One of our biggest success stories is Reading. They train every Friday, and they’re getting anywhere between 16 to 23 people turning up, which is amazing.”
Jonathan is also excited by the potential for the project; “Player wise is probably the best it’s been for years because of the investment and the project. For us it’s unbelievable, we’ve never really had that kind of intake. Pulling it together and creating new teams is the next step.”
Find your nearest Project B1 session
Contact the clubs for more information on how to get involved.
Albion in the Community
Bristol Rovers Community Trust/Gloucestershire CFA
Cambridge United Community Trust
Derby County Community Trust
Disability 4 Sport (Colchester)
Foundation 92 (Salford City)
Foundation of Light (Sunderland FC)
Middlesbrough FC Foundation
Reading FC Community Trust
RNC Sports Academy (Hereford)
Stoke City Community Trust
Long Lane FC (London)
Goalfix Sports is a specialist supplier of adaptive sports equipment and high quality footballs goals. We supply a range of IBSA approved equipment for blind football, including to the Tokyo Olympic games.