A silent history of deaf football
If you combine one of the most common and profound disabilities suffered by people in the world today, deafness, with the most popular game in the world, football, you should discover a crossover market large enough to warrant at least some awareness of the sport of deaf football within the general population.
Unfortunately, many football fans have little or no conception about what deaf football is, or actually entails.
The history of deaf football is very old
Fewer still actually realise that the history of deaf football is older than almost every professional club in the United Kingdom.
In 1871 Glasgow Deaf Athletic Football Club were founded just eleven years after Sheffield FC, the oldest football club in the world and the club is still going strong to this day, as part of the Scottish Deaf Football Association.
To put that into context, Glasgow Deaf Athletic are older than both the cities famous Old Firm teams, Manchester United or indeed almost any major club you’d care to name across the globe.
25 active deaf football clubs in Great Britain
In Great Britain at the moment there are 25 active deaf football clubs and most of them compete happily in the mainstream football leagues that are part of the fabric of the British amateur game countrywide.
In addition, all British deaf teams can compete in the British Deaf Football Cup, which has been running each year since 1959. English deaf teams can also play for the English Deaf cup, while the Scottish teams compete in their own national version of the competition.
However it is not just at domestic level that the deaf game continues to thrive. There are now Deaflympics tournaments that feature deaf football (the last one being held in Taipai in 2009).
Like professional football, there are European and World competitions which national teams from all corners of the globe compete and the level of competition is every bit as competitive as at the professional level for both men and women.
The disability do of course affect the players ability
One of the more common assumptions people make about deaf football is that the disability should not really impinge greatly on a player’s ability to play the game.
While this may be the case in terms of actual football skill, what is often overlooked is just how much reliance is placed on being able to hear in the game.
From hearing the referee’s whistle, instructions from your manager or fellow players to even simply being able to hear the roar of the crowd, being deaf in football places you at a significant disadvantage to others who can hear fully.
Despite this, the notion of deafness in the game is still termed a “hidden” disability.
Internationally accepted criteria deems deafness as having a sensory impairment of, on average, a loss of 55 decibels or more in their best ear. Furthermore, to ensure fairness, all players must remove hearing aids before the game.
This can have a knock on effect in that it can affect a player’s balance.
The deaf game counters these problems by having specially trained officials who will work with a signer on the sidelines. He is the person that the deaf players will frequently look to in the game to communicate the information they need to play.
It is a wonderfully simple and elegant system which detracts nothing from the quality or pace of the game.
Some great players would be considered deaf
The fact that deafness is considered a ‘hidden’ disability is borne out by the fact that some household names in British football would be considered deaf by the criteria outlined above.
Arsenal legend and formerly leading goalscorer at the club Cliff Bastin is one such player, as are England ace Rodney Marsh and former Liverpool and Southampton midfielder Jimmy Case.
However it is suggested that many deaf players do not make it to the top level, not due to any lack of footballing ability, but simply because of the perceived problems caused by their disability.
These ill-informed perceptions are without any real foundation in fact. I don’t know of any Premier League manager who would not want a Cliff Bastin, Rodney Marsh or Jimmy Case in their squad.
Deaf football may have something of a silent history in the past. Hopefully as attitudes change and as the sport gains wider acceptance and understanding within the football community, the future will elevate the sport into the wider consciousness of the mainstream.
The sport and the dedicated footballers, who represent their teams and countries with distinction, don’t deserve to continue to be a part of a silent minority.
Sources : Websites
Great Britain Deaf Football (www.britishdeaffootball.com)
US Deaf Soccer (www.usdeafsoccer.com)
Deaf United – A history of football in the British Deaf Community, by Atherton, Russell and Turner ISBN : 0946252467
If you look for British Deaf Football Clubs or International Deaf Football Federations, contact: www.britishdeaffootball.com