FFA League at the Xcel Leisure pitch at Walton-on-Thames

The Surrey FFA League: an effort to promote pan-disability football

One of the most beautiful points to football is that anyone can enjoy it, regardless of culture, gender or disability.

A combined effort of volunteers and the Surrey Football Association host a pan-disability football league every month for any player of any age to take part in.

The Surrey Football for All League (FFA) was founded in 2008 in the hopes of improving accessibility in the sport, opening the door for people with challenges to be part of a sport with others that they can relate to.

Dennis Jones, the league’s chairman since 2010, worked tirelessly to grow the league to a state of self-sustainabilty, from three teams to now 50 of them.

He said: “It’s to give everyone a chance, no matter what their ability, is to have an opportunity to play football, experience every part of a team and maybe a few wins on the way.”

Jones, also the chairman of the Wandgas Social and Sport Club, has not only seen new faces arrive with each year, but some of the youths who grew to become adults still remain a big part of the league.

He added: “The adult teams that are playing for me now, they started with me when they were 10 years of age and they still play now when they’re 22, 24, it’s a progression from these teams you’re watching now.”

The league is composed of multiple categories of adult and youth teams from clubs across the southwest of London, with teams spilt into groups based on ability bandings.

Other than playing football, Jones believes that the FFA league allows those involved to connect with others with similar challenges and build relations.

One of the key points of the league is the Respect Campaign, an effort to teach all involved in the sport the value of fair-play and respect to other teams, referees, fans and each other.

While only the top adult groups, Premier and Championship, have a proper league format based on results, all groups have a respect league where points are given at the end of each session by respect stewards.

Jones said: “Sometimes people can forget that everybody who is playing has got their own challenges, so we have to respect that.”

One of the stewards this past month was Jack Chowings, who played in the league since he was 10 and has been volunteering to help run the league for the last two or three years.

Eve Roberts, the Surrey FA Equality Diversity & Inclusion Officer, was at the event as a respect steward and talked about the various efforts the association does to promote accessibility in football, alongside the FFA league.

She said: “We also worked with the league since I’ve been in post in terms of getting players on their coaching or refereeing courses so really, developing the visibility in the game around those with disabilities within the work force.

“We’ve also got impairment specific opportunities across the county for those with disabilities, so it splits into those with VI, cerebral palsy, powerchair formats as well so not necessarily your traditional game on Astro or grass.”

While the league has proven to be a huge aid to youths, it has also helped the parents find others who have similar circumstances to share their experiences and bring their kids together.

Martin King, coach for the East Surrey Hawks for four years, found out about the league when looking for a place for his kids to play football.

He said: “All any parent ever wants is for their children to be able to do the things that make them happy, and to be able to stand here, and to watch them do that, to see how much they get from it and to see how much it improves them as mini-human beings, is amazing.

“We’ve probably got about 25 of our players here today, and we know every one of them goes home happier than they would have done otherwise.

“It’s what it’s all about, right?”

The FFA league plays at the end of each month at the Elmbridge Xcel Leisure Complex in Walton-on-Thames, from September to May.

It won the national “Charter Standard League” League of the Year Award in 2015/16, along with the Surrey FA’s League of the Year in the 2020 Grassroots Football Awards.

The league is on the lookout for more volunteers, players, coaches on their website and Twitter (@FootballFroAllL).

For more sports news, check out the Sports section of the South West Londoner.

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