Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs recently joined in with training and offered words of advice ahead of the team's English Deaf Football EDF Challenge Cup final against St John’s Arsenal on 11th May.
As part of the club’s Ability Counts programme, the hearing-impaired side has gone from strength to strength and looks set for a trophy-laden season, having beaten tournament favourites Fulham to book a place in the showpiece final next weekend.
Incredibly, the team is also set for a top-two finish in a mainstream Sunday league, which they entered less than 18 months ago after the Foundation's head coach of disability football, Steve Harcourt, decided the players needed to be challenged at a higher level.
Giggs admitted he was impressed with quality of football on show after taking part in an impromptu game of head tennis. “The standard has been brilliant and they’ve now been playing in a regular Sunday league – playing week in, week out has obviously helped them,” Ryan explained. “Communication is quite important in football but the way they manage it, it’s not a problem. It’s just a nod or an acknowledgement – seeing it all first-hand has been great.
"Having beaten Fulham they’ve got a great chance of winning the cup and they’re also doing well in the league, so things are looking good. Hopefully, today can be a boost and they can do well for the rest of the season.”
Head coach Steve, thrilled with the session, has seen the team flourish: “When I started at the Foundation, three years ago, we had 17 players in total, only four of whom were deaf,” he explains. “Now, we have 148 players in the Foundation, including 7-a-side and 11-a-side deaf-only teams. And we’re still growing!”
Lorri Wilson, a sign language interpreter with the team, believes Giggsy’s visit might spur the lads on to glory: “Seeing Ryan was one of the best things for the lads, it gave them extra encouragement and made them feel special that he wanted to get involved. There aren’t many deaf teams around, but United’s has now progressed to such a degree they are being recognised and that’s brilliant.”
The deaf team compete in the EDF Challenge Cup Final on Saturday 11th May at Sixfields Stadium, Northamption Town FC. Kick off is at 4pm so go along to show your support if you are in the area.
Find out more about Ability Counts.