Hereford & Worcester

London 2012: Blind football coach 'has best squad'

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Media captionEngland players explain how blind football differs from the standard game

The coach of the Great Britain blind football squad for London 2012 has said this is "the best squad of players" he has ever worked with.

Tony Larkin, 55, is based at the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) in Hereford.

He played professionally for 15 years before moving into coaching.

He began working at RNC in 1995 and has taken teams to seven European Championships, four World Championships and the 2008 Paralympics.

His current challenge is to cut a squad of 14 players and four sighted goalkeepers down to just eight.

"We've got an age range from 17 years old up to our most senior player Dave Clarke, who's played 120 odd games, who would be 40 if he plays in the Paralympics," he said.

Jonathan Gribbin is part of that squad and, after jokingly comparing his Merseyside-born coach to the fictional England manager Mike Bassett, sums up his strengths.

"He's very straight talking, gives you a clear picture of what he wants you to do and he's very fair and honest - what more could you ask for?" he said.

Coaching style

Image caption Tony Larkin began working with blind footballers as a volunteer coach

That coaching style has developed since 1995, when Mr Larkin was very much thrown in at the deep end.

He was interviewed for the job on a Monday and took his first coaching session the same evening.

He said: "The biggest difference is communication - when you're coaching other players you can demonstrate, but with blind players you can't demonstrate, it's got to be communicated.

"As a sighted player you knock the ball out in front of you, but if a blind person does that he'd lose the ball, they have to keep the ball very close to their feet.

"The other adaption is that when they are striking for goal if they have a big back lift they will lose their balance."

At the moment the Great Britain team is ranked second in Europe and fourth in the world.

He said: "We use the benchmark of Brazil and at the moment we are behind them - they are the world and Paralympic champions.

"The biggest difference is we've got a league with six teams, they've got a league with 86 teams, and the players and the coaching staff are full time."

His side will have plenty of opportunity to test themselves against the best sides in the world between now and London 2012.

"We are off to a competition in Spain at the end of August where we are playing against Spain, Turkey, Italy, Argentina and Brazil.

"Then we've got the European championships in Turkey," he said

Skill set

Blind football is played on a five-a-side pitch, with the sighted goalkeeper, the coach and a guide behind each goal telling the players where the ball is.

Mr Larkin says this does not mean the games are slow or dull.

"When people first come to see blind football they are really taken aback with the pace of the game and with the skill of the players.

"It's a very fast sport - we have boards down the side that actually keep the ball in and also help with the players' orientation.

"The players have got fantastic orientation skills and spatial awareness," he said.

The facilities at RNC Hereford are some of the best in the world according to Mr Larkin, good enough to host the Blind World Cup in 2010.

These include an indoor pitch, which means the squad can train whatever the weather is like.

"It's the only bespoke pitch in the UK - we've actually had all the walls acoustically treated so that there's no echo," he said.

Mr Larkin will be writing a regular diary on this site in the run up to London 2012.

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