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‘Disability should never be a barrier to playing football’

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Written By: Jamie Reid 15/06/15

Harry Baker has been through plenty. Now the teenager wants to use his and his team-mates’ experiences to inspire other sports fans living with disabilities.

When Baker was a baby his parents were told he most likely not be able to walk.

When he overcame that obstacle as a child he was bullied because of his problems with balance, and had to battle concentration and learning problems in school.

Today, things are very different for the Banbury-born teenager.

On Tuesday the 17-year-old will be one of 14 elite CP footballers to represent England’s team at the World Championships at St. George’s Park.

“One day my PE teacher gave me a leaflet to play for the PAN disability team at Northampton Town,” he told TheFA.com.

“I was a bit unsure about whether to go because I’d played mainstream football. I didn’t want to use my disability as an excuse for anything.

“But I decided to give it a chance. I really enjoyed it and carried on playing there for a year. I got scouted for the West Midlands regional teams and then on to England.

“Now we’re heading to the World Championships – and hopefully after that, the Paralympics. I cannot wait.”

It has been quite a journey so far for Baker.

Born with cerebral palsy – a condition that affects over 17 million people worldwide – his family only found out when he suffered a seizure as a baby.

According to the Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation one in every 500 newborn babies are diagnosed with the condition each year.

It can affect sufferers’ ability to walk, talk, see and hear – while around half of those who are diagnosed live in chronic pain.

Baker, with the help of his family, viewed these symptoms as obstacles to overcome – not problems or preventers – and set about pursuing a future in sport.

He says anyone can with a disability can do, and that that message needs to be spread.

“It [CP] doesn’t affect me so much any more,” he continued.

“It did when I was younger. I had very bad learning disabilities when I was a kid.

“I struggled at school a lot and I was bullied because my balance was atrocious. I remember people used to come and just push me over. It was a difficult time.

“But, and with huge credit to my parents, I worked hard and did lots of physio sessions to bring my balance up – and luckily enough I’m now playing for England.”

Asked whether he thought enough sports enthusiasts living with disabilities were aware of the opportunities open to them, Baker said no.

And he says the upcoming CP World Championships can act as the perfect platform to propel the CP message.

“Raising awareness of disability football is going to be a huge part of it,” added Baker.

“We need to take every opportunity we have to spread the message to people that may have a disability and not know they can get involved and play – to a really high standard if they want to.

“There are still so many people that slip through the net all over the country.

He continued: “They might think that they can’t play football, perhaps because they’re not playing at school, or they’re being bullied and lack self-confidence.

“We need to take the opportunity to show as many people as possible that there are ways to get involved – and also that it’s a great experience.

“It’s brings people together, and it’s not just for the football aspects.

“It creates new friendships, it helps people learn and it can open so many doors to you.”

England kick off the Cerebral Palsy World Championships at St. George’s Park on 16 June.

They take on Japan and Ukraine in the group stage, with the top two progressing to the knockout phase.

The Three Lions were originally also drawn alongside Iran in Group A, but all three teams will be handed an automatic win after they were forced to pull out of the competition.

Tickets to the 2015 Cerebral Palsy World Championships are on sale now.

Source: The FA http://www.thefa.com/news/england/disability/2015/jun/harry-baker-cerebral-palsy-world-championships-june2015

 

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