'Reaching 50 England caps is the highest honour I could ever have’
England Cerebral Palsy team captain Matt Crossen has described reaching 50 caps for his country as one of the best things which has happened to him and stated it is ‘the highest honour I could ever have’.
England CP’s IFCPF World Cup quarter-final against Iran may have ended in a heart-breaking 3-1 defeat but it was a landmark moment for Crossen personally, as he reached 50 appearances for his country, many of which have come as captain.
“Reaching 50 caps, I cannot describe the feeling,” Crossen said.
“To play for your country is a dream come true. To be fortunate enough to be one of the lucky ones to captain your country is goosebumps stuff. But to then play 50 times for England and to do it while you are captain, to me and my family, it is the highest honour I could ever have.
“For me personally, it is one of the best things which has ever happened to me and football wise, it is the best.”
Crossen grew up in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, and started playing for a club at the age or 12, initially at Stockton West End and then Hartburn Juniors.
The defender was enjoying a successful spell at Maske United in the Northern League when he suffered a stroke at the age of 23.
Crossen was paralysed down his left side and had to relearn how to walk and talk, but eventually got himself back to the level where he could return to training with Marske.
Cerebral Palsy football also includes players with acquired brain injuries and Crossen was shocked to receive a call from former England CP boss Jeff Davis.
Fast-forward and Crossen has now appeared at multiple major CP football tournaments and the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
Now 31, Crossen says he ‘plays for my grandad’ – the man who introduced him to football and used to take him to watch his beloved Middlesbrough.
Crossen said: “He got me into football and he has never pushed me but has always been asking me ‘are you doing your training?’ and things like that.
“Every tournament, he takes me to St. George’s Park and he has all my match-worn shirts and all the ones I’ve swapped with other players at his house. Any memorabilia he gets, he takes it to the pub to show his mates. It is brilliant.”
On making 50 caps, Crossen added: “Obviously he was emotional. He was over the moon. He has gone from watching me in the rain over in local clubs to watching me at St. George’s Park for my first England game against Japan, to watching me on the tele play Iran for my 50th cap at the World Cup. He was absolutely made-up.
“To mark my 50 caps, the lads and staff also got me a shirt which all of the players had signed, which was lovely.”
Darlington-based Crossen was speaking after landing back in the UK after his time in Salou, Barcelona, at the IFCPF World Cup.
Unfortunately for the Para Lions, the quarter-final saw them paired with eventual runners-up Iran, who were to be 3-1 victors.
A late goal from Crossen in the following ranking game with Argentina put Andy Smith’s side into the fifth and sixth play-off match but it was to be the Netherlands who would win on penalties, meaning England finished the tournament in sixth.
And Crossen said: “There are mixed emotions looking back at the tournament. We went in aiming to get to the semi-final spots [and a medal match] but certain things played out which were out of our control and we couldn’t do anything about.
“I’m still proud of the team’s efforts. We had a bit of experience with me and a few of the other lads but it was a young team. There were lads making their debuts and it was lovely to see. That was a proud moment for me [as captain], seeing young lads come through from the development team and all the way up the pathway to make their senior debuts.”
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Attention is already switching to next year’s IFCPF European Championships and Crossen added: “This team is for the future, especially with the players coming through and the players who are in the senior side now.
“All eyes are now on the EUROs next year because whilst we went into this tournament with high hopes, we will have had even more training as a full unit ahead of the EUROs and we should be able to hit the ground running.
“This team definitely has a bright future ahead of it, with the quality of some of our players. It is just the confidence they need, and that confidence will come with playing competitive games for England and we will be able to do that ahead of the EUROs.”
England CP are one of several disability teams run by the FA. Last year we launched the three-year Football Your Way plan, which will include providing world-class coaching and support services for six senior England and associated U21 teams, with the aim of every Para side challenging for podium success by 2024, with Football Your Way also committing to establishing two new blind and cerebral palsy England Women’s teams by 2024.
The ambitious plan is multi-faceted and includes proposals to develop, improve and raise awareness of Disability Football in England at all levels of the game.
Growing participation, increasing the number and quality of coaches, developing an inclusive and diverse talent pathway, increasing support for elite players and raising the profile of disability football are just some of the targets over the three years.
Crossen said: “The Football Your Way plan is massive [to disability football]. Since it was introduced, I think there have been maybe five or six players who have been in touch asking how to do things or they have seen us on the different platforms.
“I would love to be a part of it all, going to the talent pathway camps and emerging talent camps to help.
“For 99 per cent of the people, they might just see me as the England CP captain but if just one person thinks ‘I’m going to get there. That is going to be me’ then it would be enough for me. That is why I want to be involved in the camps.
“As first team players, we would love to come down and see them. (Football Your Way) is fantastic and it is honestly one of the best things which could happen for CP football.”
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