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Published 02 December 2022 5 min read
England Para Teams

'It’s about trying to ask questions and not being scared of a disability'

Written by:

Alex McQuarrie

England's partially-sighted football captain John McDougall lauds impact of International Day of Persons with Disabilities

England Partially Sighted football captain John McDougall wants to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities by encouraging people to speak candidly about disability.

The 34 year old was born fully sighted but his long-term struggles with vision saw him diagnosed with Stargardt disease in secondary school.

Now a lead workplace co-ordinator at Queen Alexandra College in his native Birmingham, McDougall devotes his time to helping students with a range of disabilities find work.

At his last job working for the Street League charity, McDougall helped approximately 250 young people into work and education and he’s hoping the globally-recognised awareness day will get people talking.

“I think it’s brilliant,” said McDougall. “There's been loads of great initiatives in the past few years like Black Lives Matter which has raised the awareness of racism in football.

“Anything that raises the profile of topics people want to talk about can only be good. It needs to get to that point where people can openly talk about stuff.

“It’s about trying to ask questions, speaking to people and not being scared of a disability.”

02 Dec 2022 0:49

Partially-sighted football explained

Find out more about the format of football which John and his Para Lions squad mates play...

Since he was appointed captain in 2019, his role in the team has grown to encompass all manner of pastoral support away from the field of play.

“The part of being a captain that no one really talks about is understanding what jobs people can do, what support you can get,” said McDougall.

“Our squad’s brilliant at that. Everyone looks after each other and everyone’s in touch with each other away from football.

“A phrase our manager always uses is we try and produce world class footballers, but we will produce world class people.

“It’s a pleasure and an honour to be around this group, honestly.”

John and his squad-mates at training under coach Stephen Daley
John and his squad-mates at training under coach Stephen Daley
With no history of visual impairments in the family, the Birmingham City fan initially thought he just needed glasses, but when his eyesight kept deteriorating a school nurse recommended he should see a specialist.

“I got to about eight or nine and started moving closer to the board each year. Then I got to secondary school and I just couldn’t read the board anymore but you try your hardest not to be different, so I didn’t really say anything,” said McDougall.

“Eventually, I ended up going to the ophthalmologist and they diagnosed me and said it will keep getting worse.

“You know when you go to the opticians and you read the A and the Q? I’d read nothing on that now.”

As for the football, McDougall and his team are training feverishly to improve on two consecutive runners-up medals at the World Blind Football Championships.
“We’re here to win a World Cup,” insisted McDougall. “Initially when we finished second, it was great and then we got to a final again.

“We’ve got the players, we’ve got the staff for us to succeed, so you’ve got to be serious.

“Steve Daley, our coach and former captain, says to the younger lads, it’s going to feel like everyone’s on your back and it’s 100 miles an hour but it needs to be.

“But the second training’s done, everyone relaxes and we’re back to being people not footballers.”