Team photo of the Brentford Penguins with coach and founder Allan Cockram

Brentford football club for players with Down’s syndrome the subject of new documentary

A Brentford football team for people with Down’s syndrome is the focus of a new documentary set to be released next year.

Mighty Penguins, a 30-minute short film in an anthology called Sports Explains the World, follows the Brentford Penguins, coached by former Bees player Allan Cockram who founded the club in 2017.

After retiring from football, Cockram, who also played for Tottenham Hotspur in the 1980s, became a taxi driver for special needs children and soon discovered that working with Down’s people was his true calling.

The 60-year-old, helped in the running of the club by volunteers and his wife, Vickie, said: “I’ve always said that true love comes from your children but if you’ve ever been with a Down’s syndrome kid, you’ll know it’s real true love.

“They’re unconditional, there’s no filter.

“That’s probably why I feel such a deep connection with these kids. I don’t suffer fools gladly and you can’t wing anything with them because they see right through it.”

MIGHTY PENGUINS: The Brentford Penguins with coach and founder Allan Cockram (Credit: Planet Penguin Football Foundation)

Offering insights into the lives of several players and their families, Mighty Penguins paints an uplifting and at times moving portrait of Down’s syndrome.

But the film also acknowledges the challenges of living with the genetic condition – something Cockram was always keen to show.

He said: “I didn’t want a pity film – that’s been done.

“I didn’t want people feeling sorry for us.

“I wanted it to be illuminating and have hope, but above all, I wanted it to tell the truth and be real.”

The documentary also touches on Cockram’s own struggles, and he admits there was catharsis in addressing his long-undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder during the pandemic.

He said: “I had to tackle a few issues of my own because if the parents were being so open and honest in the film, I felt I had to be the same.

“Throughout lockdown, not being with the kids was the first time in my life I had to deal with myself and my inner demons.

“I learnt a lot about my ADHD but I was like a caged animal.

“The kids need me but I need the kids even more. I didn’t realise that until I couldn’t see them.”

BUILDING SOMETHING SPECIAL: For all those involved, the Penguins feels like family (Credit: Planet Penguin Football Foundation)

Since the film premiered at the New York Tribeca Film Festival in June, the Penguins have garnered significant media attention.

David Beckham and son Romeo, who plays for Brentford’s B side, met the team in September and presented Cockram with The Sun’s Who Cares Wins Unsung Hero Award.

In November, the team were invited for lunch by Gordon Ramsay at two of his restaurants in Southwark.

The Penguins also travelled to Spain in October to play against an Athletic Club team comprising people with intellectual disabilities from associations in the Basque Country.

Mighty Penguins was then screened at the Thinking Football Film Festival in Bilbao, where audiences lined up to give the players a guard of honour afterwards.

For Cockram, who also runs an over 55s men’s and over 40s women’s walking football team, the experience has been surreal, but he insists the greatest benefit has been raising awareness about the nuances of Down’s Syndrome.

Cockram added: “I’m just in awe of what has happened with everything. I’m so humbled and so blessed.

“The Beckham thing was just so bizarre and the Gordan Ramsay thing was mad.

“It’s a shortcut for people who have never come across a Down’s Syndrome kid before, and it’s wonderful for that reason.

“We want to show how amazing these kids are and help people understand the condition a bit more.

“But, if the whole media circus stops tomorrow, it makes no difference to me, I’ll still be out training with the kids.”

PENGUINS ON THE PITCH: At the Gtech Community Stadium, the home of Brentford FC (Credit: Planet Penguin Football Foundation)

For the film’s director and producer Louis Myles, whose uncle has Down’s Syndrome, the film was a particular passion project.

Myles had always envisioned making a film based on his uncle’s experiences until he read the Penguins’ story in a Guardian article last year.

Myles said: “The piece popped up and it immediately reminded me of the centres my uncle used to attend, so I went to meet the Penguins and it instantly felt like this amazing community.

“Every day you’d experience all the emotions in one.

“You would feel deeply sad about some part of the situation but at the same time, the relationship these kids have with their parents fills your heart with joy.

“And you’d be rolling around the floor laughing because the kids are so funny.”

Myles is hopeful that the film, currently continuing its run on the festival circuit, will strike a chord with viewers.

He added: “It has played in front of a few different audiences now and it hits the same beats every single time.

“It just emotionally connects with people in a way I’ve never seen before.

“That just goes to show that these stories are just as important as any and they move us in different ways.

“Entering into that world is just so liberating, joyful and life-affirming.”

An official release date for Mighty Penguins is yet to be announced.

Feature image: Planet Penguin Football Foundation

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