Published 16 June 2022 5 min read
Disability Football

'My football journey has been a whirlwind'

Written by:

Marcus Renzi

The latest in our collaboration with Goal Click sees grassroots coach Marcus Renzi take us through his story and involvement in football
It may seem far-fetched, but I want to be the world's first person in a wheelchair to coach an able-bodied professional football team.

My name is Marcus Renzi, and I am a wheelchair user after an injury in December 1994, when I had a brainstem infarction (BSI) after a fight at school.

I was in a coma for six weeks, and in hospital for almost six months. I couldn't walk or talk and had to learn it all again thanks to the sheer determination of my mum, who was originally told that even if I survived the first night, I would never walk or talk again.

I'm originally from Coventry, but I now live in Cheltenham. As of May 2022, I am the manager of Leckhampton Rovers FC men’s reserves, and also joint coach of the University of Gloucestershire Women's FC seconds.
I got into football five years ago, due to my son wanting to play. Previously I played wheelchair basketball for 19 years and coached for eleven years.

My football journey has been a whirlwind, and I love it. I started off as an assistant for a team my son played for at Leckhampton Rovers FC (LRFC). After I passed my FA Level 1 coaching qualification, I got straight onto my Level 2, and was tasked with setting up my own team at LRFC, which my son played for.

I was then asked to set up and source all players for LRFC Reserves. I also applied to become a coach at the University of Gloucestershire, and it has been a brilliant season. To top it off, I applied for my UEFA B licence.

There are many barriers I have experienced in football. The main challenge is acceptance by others of being in the wheelchair and coaching in able bodied football. It is not the "norm". I want to make it more acceptable for others in my position.

I feel I have largely overcome the challenge of acceptance. Lots of players want to play for me and often return after leaving, because they know I hate lies and I have no favourites. This is my recipe for success.
However, last season I received a red card after driving on the pitch to confront a player that verbally abused me. I believe it is more about education than punishment, and because of this belief, I was banned and fined for my actions. I have never been in that situation before, and I will learn from my actions. But it was the most expensive bit of disability discrimination I have ever had.

I find that children often have a better and non-discriminatory reaction than young adults and adults.

The other main barrier is access to the pitches, especially during the winter and wet weather. I often get stuck and need to ask players and even my own children to help push me out. This is really embarrassing, even though they do not mind. I am trying to fundraise for an all-terrain wheelchair that will not get stuck, but I have had very little joy.

The two most influential people in my life (other than my four children) are Dave and Enzo. Enzo pushed me to do my coaching Level 1. Both have supported me so much and have trusted me with how I run my team. They started me on my coaching journey and had faith in me.

I tried to capture people and places that mean something to me on my coaching journey, but I also wanted to highlight what my children do to help me as a disabled coach. I hope to inspire at least one other person with a disability.
I wanted to show a variety of locations in Gloucestershire and the teams I am involved with – the LRFC academy, grounds where my Men’s Reserves play, the University of Gloucestershire, and the pitches where my son plays.

Coaching my son had its ups and downs. To be a good coach you must tell them “At football, I am not your dad, but your coach” and to try and create that boundary, so that other players do not see you favouring your child. It can put a strain on the parental relationship, but it has also created a good bond, as football is the shared passion,

My son plays for a different team now. I still help out when needed and try to pass on my knowledge and skills to other coaches that are relatively new to coaching. I still try and help improve him as a player by giving him instructions. It is so hard differentiating parental duties and coaching duties on the sidelines! My daughter currently trains with the Wildcats at the LRFC Academy, but next season she will be going into a league for the first time.

Football plays a massive role in the community. The number of men's, juniors, female, and disabled teams in Gloucestershire is phenomenal. It keeps people active, it gives people something to look forward to after a tough week at work, and it can also give a massive boost to mental health.
Leckhampton Rovers is a true family club. Because they have trusted me in becoming a coach, I have a new lease of life. Before coaching I had no real direction, and my mental health was not the best.

They do so much for the community, their reputation is known far and wide, and have built the club from nothing in 1996 to the second largest club in Gloucestershire now.

Football means so much to me now, and I just want to develop as a coach, I want to develop players, and I also want to inspire others with a disability to get involved in football.

I want to manage an able-bodied professional football team. Being a Coventry City fan, would I love to manage Coventry? No! Because I would not want to have any bad experiences that would lead to a negative view. I love coaching and am open to any challenge, but I would prefer a team that are passionate about equality and diversity.

I think that the future is bright for disability sport and football. Equality and diversity are taken more seriously these days by many organisations, especially the FA. Not everything is perfect, and the main thing I would change is access to pitches.

To others with disabilities I would say, if I can do it, then so can you! You may experience barriers, but battle to break these down, never accept the word “no” when it comes to equality. If you need to ruffle feathers to be equal, do it!