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Published 01 December 2022 4 min read
England Para Teams

'Inspiring kids to play football is worth more than half the games I've played'

Written by:

Alec McQuarrie

With International Day of Persons with Disabilities coming up on 3 December, we caught up with England's cerebral palsy captain


England men’s cerebral palsy captain Matt Crossen wants to emulate the Lionesses and win the European Championships for one very special person.

Crossen was playing at Northern League’s Marske United when he suffered a stroke at age 23 that left him with limited co-ordination and no feeling on his left side.

Now 33, the defender is at the highest level of disability football and can’t believe how far the game has come in the eight years since he entered the national set up.

And while training at Lilleshall National Sports Centre last month, he says the memory of his granddad taking him to St George’s Park for his first training camp with the Para Lions is still his most cherished moment.

“The proudest day off my life was the first time I went down to St George’s Park with my granddad,” said Crossen.

“He's not well at the minute, so that will be a memory I will always look back on.

“He's taken me to all my away games and the St George’s training camps, not because I needed him to, but he always offers. ‘I’ll take you! Where are you going? What’s the plan?’

“I'll ring him after every game and he's always telling me I should've done this, I should've done that. He's my biggest critic, like he's always been but that’s the best way, I think.”
01 Dec 2022 0:39

Cerebral Palsy football explained

Find out more about the format of CP football, as played by Matt Crossen and his teammates

The Middlesbrough fan won his 50th cap over the summer when England were knocked out of the IFCPF World Cup by Iran at the quarter-final stage, but another huge tournament is now on the horizon.

“I can’t wait for the EUROs next year,” said Crossen. “I’m really excited for it. Obviously we want to do as well as we can.

“We know secretly and collectively as a team where we want to be, and we're going to do our best to hit those standards.

“If we get in the top three of that and the Worlds, I will be happy with that. Obviously we want to win it, but we don’t want to jinx ourselves either.”

Crossen counts his announcement as captain in 2019 on par with scoring a seven-minute hat-trick against USA in the World Cup quarter-finals of the same year as his greatest achievements.

But back in 2015, there was a lot of work to do to develop the exposure and resources available to the players, something that the FA have made a priority.
Crossen and his Para Lions teammates are gearing up for next year's EUROs
Crossen and his Para Lions teammates are gearing up for next year's EUROs
“When I first came into it, CP football was not as recognised as you see now. It’s stepped up to somewhere I never would have dreamt,” added Crossen.

“The progress that’s been made is unbelievable. It is day and night.

“With the emerging talent camps, it is brilliant because we are finding more youngsters with CP or disabilities that can come through across the Para squads.

“The lads who do come through and make it into the squad, we have a good laugh with them. We've got a couple of lads at the moment who are constantly asking questions.

“That's the sort of thing you like because knowing that you’re inspiring a couple of kids to play football is probably better than half the games I have played in.

“There is a sense of purpose and belonging.”