Players from the Foundation’s under 16s PAN-disability programme, Ability Counts, undertook a Trailblazers project to research Darren Harris, the first Black, blind footballer to represent Team GB at the Paralympics.
The Trailblazers project is a celebration of the diversity of players in British football and guides Premier League academy players and members of Premier League Charitable Fund (PLCF) groups to discover Black or Asian trailblazers from their club and local area who have made a difference in sport, both past and present.
The Ability Counts players, who each have a disability themselves, researched Darren’s background and career to create a presentation, which – little did they know – would be presented to the double-Paralympian himself, when he joined them in an online workshop in March.
Darren, who is the most decorated blind footballer in British history, and is now a bestselling author and motivational speaker, took part in a Q&A with the participants following their presentation, offering them advice from his own experiences.
“The best piece of advice I can give is that it’s all in the mind. Ultimately, your psychology is the key to everything – you need to have belief in yourself,” said Darren.
“Confidence, for me, comes from success. But success doesn’t have to be from climbing Everest, it can be small things. Confidence is one of those things that builds through repetition of doing things. If you stick at something you will get better at it and that’s going give you the confidence that when a challenge comes up in life you’ve got the ability to deal with it.”
Matt, an Ability Counts participant, said: “Darren Harris is proof that sports is inclusive for everyone regardless of your race, sex, religion or disability. He hasn’t let his disability get in the way and even represented Great Britain in two different sports.”
Teammate Euan added: “Through this project I have learnt that even with all the challenges Darren had in front of him he worked hard and stuck to his beliefs to achieve his goals, which is something I intend to do myself. If you have the right attitude, the will to succeed and the right people in your network you can achieve your goals and help motivate others.”
Matt Pilkington, disability and inclusion coordinator for Manchester United Foundation, said: “The Trailblazer project fits perfectly into the Foundation’s aims of inspiring and engaging young people. When setting up the online programme, especially when participants had been remote learning all day, it was important for the content to be engaging and relatable. The group were extremely enthusiastic about researching such a trailblazer of Para Football and said what they learnt from Darren Harris inspired them to never give up and do their upmost to overcome hurdles they face in their lives.”
The Trailblazers project and online workshops are just some of the activities that have been delivered by the Foundation’s disability and inclusion department during the Covid-19 pandemic. The team has been providing regular welfare calls and weekly online activities for participants and pupils since the start of lockdown in March 2020, and have also provided educational workshops and opportunities to take qualifications.