FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
David Fearnhead speaks to the Lancashire FA’s Coach of the Year Owen Coyle Junior about life as coach of the England Amputee Football team as they head into the European Championships
The name may be a familiar one in the Ribble Valley but Owen Coyle Junior is forging his own path in football. The former St Augustine’s pupil has recently been awarded the Lancashire Football Association’s Coach of the Year Award. It’s an honour he accepts with an honest humility.
“It’s really nice to get recognised,” says the 21-year-old, who has lost none of his Scottish accent despite more than a decade of growing up here. “I’ve worked with a lot of coaches in this area who are, with all due respect, better than I am. I think it’s more do to with my voluntary services with the England Amputee Football team.”
Amputee football is a seven-a-side version of the game played by six outfield players on crutches who are all missing a lower limb and a goalkeeper who is missing an arm. It’s played at pace by players who have balance and coordination skills that can often appear to defy physics. A fact borne out when Owen reveals he recently played in an able bodied five-a-side team against Everton’s amputee team. The two-legged players won, but only just: “Yeah, my dad stuck in a couple of late goals to spare us from defeat,” he laughs.
Growing up in the Ribble Valley when your father is manager of a local football club hasn’t always been easy.
Having the same name doesn’t help either when angry fans take to social media.
“Truth be told I’ve gotten better at handling it. When I was younger I was a bit naive in responding to certain things.
As you mature you realise that the people who are giving you a bit of grief, nine times out of 10 are doing it because they love their club and they don’t really know where to target their frustration. I don’t hold any grudges against the teams or people who’ve given me a bit of stick in the past,” says Owen, who is also an inclusion officer for Blackpool FC where he often works with children who have a disability.
He’s coached the national amputee team since last October and will be in charge for his first major tournament as they head to Turkey for the European Championships in October. Currently ranked ninth in the world, England have had some impressive performances under their young coach. Four months ago they won a warm-up tournament which featured many of the top sides, beating hosts Poland in the final. “It was a huge victory for ourselves ahead of the Euros. So we’re going in very confident and hoping we can represent ourselves well.”
Hosts Turkey are favourites and like many of the top amputee teams are full-time professionals. By contrast England’s amputee team currently receives no financial support from the FA. Each player in the squad must raise £1,500 in order to participate in the Championships.
“It’s quite ludicrous really,” admits Owen. “We do what we do and the guys battle on. We’ll still go out there and try and win it. We are trying to get more support from the FA and we are doing everything we can to improve our relationship with them.”
Whilst the FA have given some financial backing to amputee football in England, they currently pay nothing towards supporting the national team. It means that the England Amputee Football Association has to be very active in its charity fundraisers, which also go to supporting a national league of eight teams.
“The FA do a good job of supporting other teams such as cerebral palsy, visual impaired, hearing impaired, powerchair and blind. I think it’s a real shame they don’t support amputee football within that. Support all the impairment groups, but support them equally. We’re not asking them to take money away from another and give it to ourselves. All we are asking is to be supported equally.”
Owen left school at 15 and by his own admission wasn’t cut out for an academic life, nor did he have the ability to make it as a professional footballer. What he did have was a love and a knowledge of the game. Having started a two-year apprenticeship with the Lancashire FA, he was approached by the then coach of the amputee team Peter Wild.
“He asked me to come down to do some volunteer coaching, I was picking up the balls, bibs, and cones. All the basic stuff when you are just starting out.”
Having started at the bottom he made steady progression, first coaching the u16s, then onto the development squad, before being appointed head coach last year.
“We’ve gone from strength to strength, both in awareness and performances on the pitch. They are very good footballers in their own right. Some have lost a limb through cancer, or being in the army, or a road traffic accident. The majority of our players have all played at a high level before they lost a limb. They get coached the same, they get asked of the same demands and we put on a session which is very similar to the mainstream game.”
The European Championships run until 10th October 2017
Anyone looking to support the England team can get in touch via their website: www.theeafa.co.uk