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Published 20 April 2023 6 min read
England Para Teams

Para Lion James Blackwell opens up on his return to England CP squad

Written by:

Alec McQuarrie

As the Para Lions prepare to face Ireland and the Netherlands in April, hear how CP ace James Blackwell made his return to the squad


England’s most senior cerebral palsy player James Blackwell is back and determined to squeeze every last drop out of a career that has had its fair share of setbacks.

The 36 year old joined the England set up a decade ago, a leap of faith that forced him to confess to his then-fiancée the full extent of his condition.

A broken neck, two children and a raft of international appearances later, Blackwell took the decision in 2018 to take a step back to focus on work and raising a young family.

But with an injury crisis looming ahead of last year’s Tri Nations tournament, Blackwell was persuaded to return, initially on a temporary basis.

“I always wanted to come back, even though I knew it probably wasn’t going to happen," he said.

"I still kept in touch with the lads and the coach. Smudger [coach Andy Smith] rang me up and said, ‘look I know you’re not coming back, but would you mind playing a game to help us out?

“I scored the winner against America and Smudger said what do we need to do to get you to the World Cup? I said I needed to have a chat with my wife.

“We had a couple of choice conversations. I think my wife knew I wanted to come back regardless. She took a bit of convincing.”
James was with the Para Lions at their training camp in Tenerife earlier this year
James was with the Para Lions at their training camp in Tenerife earlier this year
It wasn’t just the thought of Blackwell spending time away from home that concerned Holly Blackwell, but memories of a freak incident that could have left new-born Charlie James Blackwell without a father.

In a pre-season match for mainstream football club Kingswood in 2015, Blackwell went up for a header and landed awkwardly with a fellow player following up on his neck.

Blackwell recalled: “I couldn’t feel my arms or my legs and had pins and needles, like you get when you have a tattoo.

“I couldn’t dress myself and said someone’s going to have to take me to the hospital, something doesn’t feel right.

“The doctor told me my spinal cord had been severed so much I should be dead. He didn’t know how I walked in there.

“That’s probably when my wife started disliking football, because it was quite scary for her. She was feeding and washing both me and a 12-week-old baby at the time.

“Now I’ve constantly got pins and needles down both my arms because the damage to my spinal cord will always be there.”

James Blackwell's road to England

The incredible journey of a man who couldn’t even tell his fiancée that he had cerebral palsy before becoming an England international.

Thankfully, Blackwell made a miraculous recovery in under five months and went on to represent the Paralympics GB team at Rio 2016.

Great Britain finished fifth that year, and Blackwell went one better the following year at the World Championships in Argentina with England.

Blackwell is satisfied with what he’s already achieved, but there are still three very important things to tick off the list before he hangs up his boots.

The Business Development Manager could complete two of them at the European Championships in May, as long as young Charlie and Olivia get leave from school and the Para Lions deliver a first-ever major medal.

“My son’s getting into football now so that was also a perfect excuse to come back,” said Blackwell. “The little ones are asking me about playing for England and they really want to come watch me play.
In action against Venezuela at the IFCPF World Cup in Spain in May 2022
In action against Venezuela at the IFCPF World Cup in Spain in May 2022

“My little one’s itching to come to Italy in May, constantly watching videos on YouTube.

“They’re also desperate to come up to training camps and I’m sure I’ll get them up at some point.

“We’re getting close to a medal and that’s what I’m hoping for this year in the Euros. I think we’ve got a good chance.

“Ukraine are going to be the team to beat again but we’ll definitely push ourselves if we get them.”

Blackwell’s final goal is to reach a half-century of England caps and have his name emblazoned on the roll of honour at St George’s Park.

The father of two believes he’s still got four more years left in his legs, and that’s plenty of time to conquer the world.

England's CP team are in action at St. George's Park in April when they face Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands in a Tri-Nations series. The schedule at the national football centre is as follows:-

Friday 21 April: England v Ireland (12pm BST)

Saturday 22 April: Netherlands v Ireland (12pm BST)

Sunday 23 April: England v Netherlands (11am BST)