Ryan Kay's grassroots story: Everything in my life improved because of playing cerebral palsy football
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October 6 marks World Cerebral Palsy Day. Here England CP goalkeeper Ryan Kay discusses how he got into football and his journey to representing his country at World Cups and Paralympics
I’m Ryan Kay and I am a goalkeeper for the England Cerebral Palsy team and have been to seven major tournaments now, including the Paralympics with Great Britain and three World Cups.
Football-wise, I come under the classification of FT1, which means I have the most issues around my mobility. CP affects both legs and it impacts my balance, coordination and movement. The easiest way to explain it is my muscles are really tight and it impacts the movement of walking, running and changing direction. There is also not a lot of strength in my muscles and that is probably why I went into goal at the start as a kid because the other lads were a lot stronger and I could be pushed off the ball so I felt more comfortable and confident playing as a goalkeeper.
I have played football since I was six years old living in Stanground, Peterborough, when my dad decided to set up a team. I had shown interest from a young age, seeing my brother Richard play and watching his games on a weekend, so I wanted to start playing but I really struggled in the environment of mainstream teams and my dad saw that so he thought let’s not give up and let’s start a team together.
My dad had coached my brother’s team a bit so he had some experience and he thought well if teams are not going to have me involved in games, then let’s beat that barrier and do it ourselves.
At first, the idea of setting up Park Farm was to do it for me but then it built up until we had two or three teams at the club and we were looking to give opportunities to all.
I was involved with Park Farm until the age of 16. It was a really good group of lads and my dad continued to coach the team in mainstream football.
At that stage, we didn’t know much about CP football in terms of centres and teams. My brother has cerebral palsy as well and he ended up getting a trial at the East Midlands CP Centre of Excellence in Nottingham when I was around 15.
I went along to support him and they saw I had CP as well so I got into that team, because they had an under-16 team, and then from there I got into the England development squad, which is now the Under-21s.
When I started with the FA pathway around the age of 15, the Emerging Talent Programme (12-16) and (16-19) was not there at that stage, it was regional centres. I literally played one fixture for the England development squad and then I was moved up to the senior squad before my 16th birthday. I’ve been in the England CP's senior team for ten years now so I never looked back!
Playing CP football changed my life. Before I started playing football, I used to hide behind parents, I would hide behind teachers, whoever it was, and let them speak for me. I was really quiet, shy, and had no confidence to speak. But joining the team actually gave me the belief that I have done something well and gave me the understanding that disability shouldn’t be a thing where you take a step back. It is about pushing on and being the best you can be.
Football has pushed me on in my life and I have learned skills from this England CP set-up that I would never have learned had I not got involved. It has changed my life confidence-wise and everything in my life has improved and gone to a new level because of the opportunities football has given me.
I work for the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire FAs as an inclusion officer, so my job is to go out into the community and it is so inspirational to know you are helping provide children with those opportunities.
Disability football has grown massively at all levels. There are boys, girls, mixed sessions and adult sessions. It has exploded across the country and the FA’s Football Your Way plan is only going to help get even more people playing football.
I took a year out of playing football and representing England because I wanted some time out as I had been in the programme for so long, but immediately it felt like something in my life was missing.
So I got back involved with the training programmes and coming to St. George’s Park and that love of football really came back. I had a real motivation to get back on that plane to major tournaments.
When I look at my career, obviously my dad helped me massively and I have to also say thank you to my brother Richard because he was playing in pan-disability football and it was him getting selected for his trial that really opened doors for me. So if that never happened, I would have missed out on the opportunities I have had and I would be one of the missing people who organisations like the FA are trying to find.
Luckily he got the trial and from there my football exploded and I went through the pathway to where I am now. So if it wasn’t for him, going to that football tournament that one time, it either wouldn’t have happened or it would have come much later in my life and I would have missed out on so many opportunities and skills which I have developed.
If I wasn’t playing football, I think it would really affect my disability because I am training, I am active, I am doing my stretches and making sure I am doing everything the England team puts together for me. If I didn’t have that, I think my disability would deteriorate and it would affect my life in other ways.
Having football, really motivates you to better yourself. Not only your football but your life as a whole.
You can find out more about cerebral palsy football by watching the video below and you can learn about some of the other forms of disability football available by clicking here.
Find out more about cerebral palsy football
A brief explainer video on some of the rules of cerebral palsy football