Disability Football on the up in Kent
Disability Football on the up in Kent

With the start of the Kent Reliance Kent Disability Finals this weekend, KSN has been talking to Brian Gray, the Chairman of the Kent Disability League about the weekend ahead and just how far, from humble beginnings, disabled football has come in the County.

Brian told us, “It goes back to 2005, through an initiative between the Kent FA with Paul Dolan acting as disability development officer and clubs which included Invicta Valiants, Larkfield, Charlton and Valance School, also involved was Mike Bishop disability officer for Kent County Council and Alan Milner from the Parents Consortium. The idea was to provide regular competitive playing opportunities for young players with a disability.”

“The members met at Valance School where at first the meetings were to talk about setting up a league. After a while they were joined by John Harvey representing Bower Grove School.  When finally things seemed to be moving with the league, i.e working out fixtures, the FA stepped in to inform the League that we couldn’t play because we had proposed a 4 year age banding to get numbers up to play. The Kent FA couldn’t sanction the league without the go ahead from the FA, so it took another year before the FA approved the league as a pilot model.”

“So in the 2006-2007 season,  the first junior league season started, included Invicta Valiants, Charlton, Gillingham, Larkfield Youth, St Margaret’s All Stars, Swanscombe Tigers, South Park and 1066. Bower Grove School joined up with Maidstone United. Larkfield youth dropped out afterwards as a lot of players joined Maidstone United.”

We then turned the focus onto Brian and how long has the Chairman been involved?  “It goes back to when we were looking for a team for my eldest son to join after he had tried playing mainstream football, but failed to play all matches due to his disabilities,” reminisced Brian.

“We were watching Children in Need and Invicta Valiants were featured, so we immediately got in touch and went along.  My son enjoyed it and felt involved as a team member.”

With his son now playing, Brian went on to tell us how he got involved.  “The club had a vacancy for a welfare officer for which I put myself forward for,” he said.

“Back in 2012, the Kent FA and Steph Gadd asked if member clubs would like to run the league moving forward.  I put myself forward for fixtures officer position to which I still am. After the first season the Chairman had to step down due to not being able to commit more time to the league.  I was asked if I would consider the position to help move the league forward, to which I agreed and was voted in.  I am still the Chairman and get so much satisfaction from seeing the adults/children play football.”

“It all started with around 8 junior teams.  This progressed at an extremely fast rate and they had to introduce an adult section to accommodate the need for football. Today we have around 34 adult teams and 20 junior teams!”

Shamefully like many around Kent, few of the KSN team have had any dealings with Disabled Football – a point that Brian is obviously concerned about.

“We are always trying to get as much publicity as possible to help promote the league as we are the largest disability league in the country.  I write as many reports as possible and try to get them to media outlets.  We use Facebook, Twitter and our website along with a mobile phone app that is available on both Apple and Android.  Just search for Kent Disability Football League.”
We then asked Brian if he had at any time come close to stopping his magnificent work.  Smiling, his reply came from the heart.

“From the quality of play and the enjoyment that you see when the players are playing, I can say no I have never thought that.  You can walk around any tournament and be approached by different players that just want to shake your hand and say thank you for providing this.  This to me makes it all worthwhile.”

This weekend are the first “Kent FA backed Finals” – and for the League it’s a huge step forward as Brian explained.

“This is a great boost for us as it will hopefully get more publicity for the league and hopefully bring more players/teams out of the woodwork so to speak and allow for more people that could not play football to access and enjoy the beautiful game.”

“We normally hold games at playfootball (Juniors) and The Abbey School (Adults). The 3G allows for an even playing field so that all disabilities can play.  At the Juniors event this weekend, there will be 2 divisions playing on 2 pitches, they will play in a group stage then a semi-final followed by a final.  There will be a total of 11 games played on the day including the final.”

“Next weekend (May 20/21) at K Sports, the adults will be playing on 4 pitches with 6 teams in each. There will be group stages, quarter final, semi-final then the final so in total around 25 games played.”

This Sunday (May 14th), the Junior Finals will be staged at PlayFootball, London Road, in Rainham with a 10:00 start time with the Final at lunchtime. 

The Adults Finals are a week later – Sunday May 21st – and will be held at K Sports, Aylesford.

KSN will be at both Final’s Days – watch out for Social Media updates and full reports right here and on the Kent FA website on the respective Monday’s after the Finals.