My name is Hailey Collins, a volunteer football coach from St Agnes Dis-Ability Football Club in Cornwall.
I coach our youth and adults' pan-disability football teams and have been with the club since returning to coaching six years ago - I had stopped coaching due to work and focused on playing sports.
I’ve always been interested in sports and played football at primary school in Treleigh, Cornwall - as the only girl who attended football training. Football has always been a way for me to stay healthy both physically and mentally, make friends, and feel part of something.
I started working across Cornwall as a Job Coach for Brandon Trust, supporting people with disabilities into work when I came across St Agnes Disability Football Club. I took one of my young people to a session – to help build his confidence and social skills.
I’d never heard of disability football. This was my first experience of the world of disability football and the difference it can make. The group were so diverse and all having the most wonderful time.
I was so inspired by the work of the club and their manager Mandy Kimmins that I wanted to support in whatever way that I could. One of the players, Andrew, had an older brother who always played mainstream football but there were not the opportunities for him that others had.
I started coaching at St Agnes and took a keen interest in supporting the disability teams. Pan-disability means anyone who has a disability can join in and play with people who all have varying disabilities. All playing together in one team.
I love working with all our players who are all extremely different and have varying abilities, challenges, and needs. But they are all united in one place for football training and all want to meet people, be included, and have fun!
One of my best moments of coaching was when we took part in the FA People's Cup in 2018. The players did so well that they were invited to go to Bristol for the next round. For our players this was a challenge due to the nature of getting to the location, having support staff and family members attend, and taking part in something completely new.
However, the players prevailed and played the best that I had ever seen. Each member of the team was playing for each other and supporting everyone to do their best. The players we have are extraordinary and have learnt how to support each other.
Luke joined St Agnes in December 2021 - at first, he was apprehensive and wanted to sit in the car and watch. However, he was so brave to take his first step onto the pitch and join in. Luke progressed to attending our monthly Cornwall Disability Football League festivals.
He was so nervous that he did not want to play. However, with support from his carer he joined in and tried playing in goal for the first time! He flourished and found a new role which he had not considered before. His confidence has grown immeasurably due to his ongoing love of being part of a club.
Ethan started in our youth team – he is cheeky, fun, and full of enthusiasm. He always wears the football shirt of his favourite team, Arsenal. He has made so many friends within the youth team and supported them to gain confidence and skills.
Recently Ethan became old enough to progress into our adult team and slotted in perfectly. He is one of our first players moving across and has transitioned so well. We are super proud of him!
Football helps to bring people together and creates a sense of community. Our St Agnes club is about fun, inclusivity, and providing opportunities to all people. For me personally, I coach to provide opportunities to people that would not have had these chances when I was younger.
In Cornwall there are lots of small football clubs. However, opportunities within Cornwall are limited as there are few professional set-ups or clubs with lots of money. Those that participate in football usually do it for the passion and love of the game.
Disability football in Cornwall is therefore quite limited, with only five football teams. St Agnes AFC was one of the first teams to set up a disability squad and try to enhance the reach of disability football.
St Agnes has helped and encouraged so many people with disabilities to come along and be part of a team! All the players get to put on the St Agnes shirt, colours, and be part of our wider club community. They can feel like anybody else would on a match day. It counts for a lot with our players just to be included and treated equally. It is so much more than just a football team!
In the future we would love to be able to have a sustainable player pathway for disabled players in Cornwall. I hope that disability football grows so that all mainstream clubs have knowledge of the disability league within Cornwall, so they can signpost players to the game.
In our disability club we have girls and women included in our mixed gender and mixed disability sessions. Nobody is turned away and as a female coach, I’m a huge advocate for females getting into football.
I would like for there to be more focus in Cornwall surrounding females in football. Across the county currently we have a real lack of female participation. The female pathway in Cornwall needs huge development and then this will in turn support disabled females to access football as well.
At St Agnes AFC Dis-Ability squad, I would like to see more youth players joining as they provide such a buzz of energy, enthusiasm, and imagination to the sessions. It really is amazing seeing a player having fun and coming up to me as a coach to say, “thank you so much for a great session”.
Disability football is not just about football. It is about fun, feeling included in a community, and being part of an incredibly special group of people.