Football is the world game, played by different people, in different countries with different ambitions all around the world.
It’s tailored to every individual, including people who totally blind.
The game is called Blind Football, and is played around the world, and at the Paralympics it is known as Football 5-a-side, where Brazil beat Argentina in the final to be crowned champions.
“Blind football, is known as Football 5-a-side at the Paralympics and is for players that are classified as B1, in simple terms, totally blind”, said Dave Connolly, the National Manager of Australian Blind Football.
“It’s a 5 versus 5 game, so at the Paralympics, it’s called Football 5-a-side.
“The pitch is 40 by 20 metres, and there are four players on the field with a sighted goalkeeper.
“They have an audible ball, and there are sideboards down the sidelines of the field, allowing the ball to stay in play while guiding the players around the field.
“In the game, there’s a sighted person behind the goal called a goal guide, who calls commands in the forward third for players to score.
“There’s a coach in the middle third that provides guidance through there, and the goalkeeper can do it in the defensive third, so it’s broken up around the pitch.
“Even though they’re classified as B1, they wear blindfolds to ensure a level playing field.
“One important rule of play is that the defender must call out ‘voy’, and it means the player is coming towards the player with the ball.
“Internationally, it’s governed by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA), and they work with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) for it to be at the Paralympics”.
Blind Football is everpresent in Australia, where players train for their local sides and meet in Melbourne a few times a year for national matchdays.
Australian Blind Football has built relationships with a multitude of local clubs across the country, such as Adelaide Comets FC, Brisbane Olympic FC, Perth Soccer Club, South Melbourne FC as well as Blind and Low Vision Football NSW.
“We’ve definitely gone down a path with large community clubs, and have tried programs with A-League and W-League clubs”, said Connolly.
“What we’ve found out is that our players really want a community connection as well as being able to play the sport.
“We have training programs at these partner clubs and as we have more local training and more matchdays at our national camps, we’ll get them more skilled up and ready to go.
“We’re looking at other locations in Australia, like Northern Territory, Tasmania and regional parts of Victoria and New South Wales to provide pathways for people who are blind or partially sighted to play football.
“We want to grow the local programs to have more matchdays and grow the skill level.”
As Connolly mentions, the players are enjoying having a community connection rather than being partnered with an A-League/W-League club.
This also extends to participation rates, where the local ability helps bring players together.
“We might unearth a player who hasn’t heard about the sport before because they’re a relative of someone that plays mainstream football, and they find out about it from then”, he said.
“We want to provide a bigger network and bigger community to get more people playing, and support with resources and volunteers.”
Australia, which is looking to increase training camps and funding, is forming a skilful, formidable team, and Connolly outlines the ambitions of playing at the 2032 Paralympic Games in Brisbane, or even before.
“Football 5-a-side has been at the Paralympics since 2004, and it’s one of the most popular Paralympic sports”, said the Australian Blind Football National Manager.
“Unfortunately crowds weren’t allowed, but Tokyo were expecting big crowds for the Football 5-a-side competition.
“Football 5-a-side is going to be at Paris in 2024, with a decision in the coming months as to whether it will be at LA in 2028 as well.
“It’s in the bid that Brisbane just got up for 2032, it just still needs to go through the approval process with IPC.
“We’re pretty confident that we’ll have an Australian team playing Football 5-a-side at least in 2032 and we’re really looking to develop our squad over the next six to eight years. It’s the ultimate goal.”
And within the ranks of the Australian team, there’s already a few stellar prospects developing.
According to the Australian Blind Football website, the squad currently consists of Amir Abdi, Brendan Spencer, Shae Skinner, Brad Pinkett, Nathan Meneses, Nathan Letts, Sharam Jazan, Nizamuddim Azimi and Isaiah Muller.
The former two were mentioned by Connolly when asked about who stands out within the squad.
“We have Amir Abdi, who is also the Blind Football Project Coordinator with Football Victoria – we work with Football Victoria and they saw it as an opportunity to have someone involved in their organisation”, he said.
“He is the captain and is a leader in our team, both as a player and a mentor because of his experience.
“Another up and coming player is Brendan Spencer – he captained our side when we had our first international tour to India in 2018.
“India was very impressed with Brendan, and he shows the skills really needed in blind football.
“The dribbling is a unique technique, as you have to keep the ball by your feet at all times.
“You’ve got to have great spatial awareness and it’s a very professional game now, as demonstrated at the Paralympics, and you have to be able to adapt and be very fit.
“There’s obviously other great players in the squad, but these two have shown great leadership in the areas we’ve highlighted so far.”
As Connolly mentioned, Blind Football is a unique game for the wide variety of skills involved, and communication forms a significant part of the sport.
Not enough communication and the players become worried about their role, too much and it’s confusing and overwhelming.
“It’s about finding the balance”, said Connolly.
“The coaches and staff have to build a very strong relationship with the players – you really have to know your players individually to perform well.
“Communication is a key part, but it’s about very specific communication and not overloading the players.
“At the end of the game, our players are mentally and physically exhausted, because there’s a lot going on during the game.
“As a coach, guide or keeper you need to be talking to the players, but you also need to give them time to hear the sounds, hear the voice, hear the ball and do their thing without overloading them too much.”
Blind football is an amazing sport to watch.
There is extreme passion throughout the side, which is epitomized after the scoring of a goal, where the goal guard rushes to the scorer with glee.
It’s a sport that is gaining immense traction around the world, as the facilities and funding increase significantly.
It’s not just providing a platform for blind people to play football, it’s providing the facilities and opportunities necessary to allow everyone to thrive, and to be the best they can be.
There’s a colossal pool of talent within Blind Football, and it makes for an exciting, entertaining watch with all of the emotions of football.
“It’s an exciting and skilful sport to watch and to play”, Connolly explains.
“For anyone that loves football, they’ll love this.
“When I first came across it, just as a football fan and player, it really hooked me in.
“Football is the world game, and Blind Football isn’t just a blind sport, it’s football”.
And it’s this opportunity – this diversity – that truly makes football the world game.