Skip to main content
Published 04 April 2023 6 min read
England Para Teams

Clarke: 'I'm not worried about the future for deaf children in football'

Written by:

Paul Martin

The Para Lions captain has been speaking about the difference in opportunities for deaf youngsters now compared to when he discovered the game


Having made his international deaf football debut in 2008, few people are better placed to discuss the development of the sport than England's Jamie Clarke.

The striker was just 18 when he appeared at the inaugural World Championships in Greece, fulfilling an ambition to represent his country that had been in place since he first kicked a ball around his garden in Bretforton, Worcestershire, as a toddler.

Growing up with a football-mad father and grandfather, it didn't take long for Clarke to catch the bug and he vividly recalls his early days in the school team, ‘wearing a blue-and-black striped shirt and scoring loads of goals’.

Despite his obvious ability, however, it was not all plain sailing for Clarke growing up in the hearing game.

“I’ve had loads of discrimination but I never moaned because I got used to it,” he said.

“I’ve been called lots of horrible names but I let it go. That’s how they thought they could stop me scoring, through abuse, but if I ignore it and score goals, that’s the best response.

“Now, referees know people can’t discriminate and I feel better now. I’m not too worried about the future for deaf children in football. In the past, it was a pretty poor situation so I’m glad it’s improved.”
Celebrating a goal in England's recent win over Germany in Telford
Celebrating a goal in England's recent win over Germany in Telford
Discovering deaf football – or rather, deaf football discovering him – came as a timely boost to Clarke, who was invited to his first trial aged 17 and appeared on the international stage shortly afterwards.

Not that there was any danger of stage fright for a player whose self-belief got him through those challenging days growing up and acts as the cornerstone of his message to deaf youngsters trying to break into the sport today.

“Lots of people ask if I was nervous but I was 18 years old and just so excited,” he said.

“I was feeling really confident, I knew I was going to score, which I did. Being nervous never came into my head.

“It was the best feeling ever. Every time, even now, I see the Three Lions and the shirt, I get goosebumps.

“Representing England is the biggest thing that can happen and I never thought it could happen, growing up in the hearing world. Representing the deaf team is a very big thing for me and my family.

“Confidence is key [for young players]. There are always people out there who will doubt you – ignore them and focus on yourself. Self-belief is really important and if you believe in yourself, you can do it.”

Fittingly, given that advice, Clarke earmarks David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo as his idols but it was always the number nine, rather than seven, he wanted to adorn the back of his shirt.

A born goalscorer, the 32 year old scooped the golden boot award at the 2011 European Championships and has finished top scorer in three Champions League campaigns, as well as being named in the team of the tournament at the 2017 Turkey Deaflympics.
08 Dec 2022 3:05

Deaf squad welcome Reece Bradbury to training

The England men's deaf squad extended a warm welcome to youngster Reece Bradbury for their training camp in 2022

Yet it’s a match playing out of position that Clarke recalls most fondly, testament to a character and captain who stresses the importance of putting the team first.

“In the 2015 European Championships, when we won bronze, we played against a really strong Ukraine side,” he revealed.

“We had to defend the whole game but we won 2-1 and I scored two. I was playing left midfield, because their no.7 was one of the best players in the world and the manager wanted me to lock him in.

“I accepted the manager’s decision and did my job, as we all did. We had a crazy night with the team that night.”

Now part of the England Football umbrella and training regularly at St George’s Park, Clarke is determined to seize the opportunities that remain with the England Deaf squad and sees it as part of his leadership role to ensure the younger members of the squad do not take it for granted.

“The first time I came to St George’s Park, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “We’d always trained on school pitches or parks, so to come here was a great feeling.

“I felt really proud we’d been recognised and been treated equally, the same as the first team. We can’t ask for more than that.

“Every time we come here, I make sure I make the most of it and that the players are aware of how lucky we are to be here.

“Each time I play for England, I get prouder because I know I’m getting older.

“The end is getting closer and closer so I have to make the most of it. Knowing I’m leading that team out there is the best feeling.”
Clarke is among the most experienced players in the England men's deaf squad
Clarke is among the most experienced players in the England men's deaf squad
A multi-talented sportsman, Clarke also represents England at cricket and Futsal and juggles those duties with helping his dad, a painter and decorator, as well as part-time modelling commitments.

Spare time is therefore hard to come by but the sacrifices are made worthwhile every time he pulls on an England shirt, no matter what the sport.

“I haven’t had my first cricket cap yet – training started last year – but I don’t think anything will beat scoring a goal for England or representing England at football,” he said.

“It’s in my blood, it’s part of my family, and I’m very grateful deaf football found me – I feel proud to be involved in it.

“Growing up in the hearing world is a great life but at the same time, I have a deaf identity as well and I’m proud to have a foot in both worlds.

“Being in the deaf community makes me very proud and I love being part of it.”