Brad Bates' journey to representing England at the Powerchair Football World Cup
Brad Bates discusses how he went from starting out at West Bromwich Albion as an eight year old to representing England at the 2023 FIPFA Powerchair Football World Cup in Sydney, Australia
Every kid dreams of playing for England.
So when it happened, it was such a surreal moment.
I was lining up before the game and I was having flashbacks.
I remember when I first started playing football, I was sat in my house and told my parents ‘one day I am going to play for England’. And I did it!
I have spinal muscular atrophy, which causes muscle weakness, my legs pretty much do nothing and I have limited upper body strength, and a limited range of movement. So I need support with pretty much everything I do.
But when I took up powerchair football when I was eight, I found the sport gave me a level of independence I didn’t really feel during the rest of my life.
Once I am on that court, it feels like home, and it is one of the only places where I don’t need support or anything doing for me. When I am on that pitch, it is all down to me and whether I can execute what I need to do.
The first time I went out on the court, there was a lot of excitement. Obviously, I was young and I had no fear, which is good because powerchair football is open age and open gender so within a couple of games I was playing against 30 or 40-year-old blokes who were a hell of a lot bigger than me! But I quickly became known as someone who wouldn’t pull out of tackles even at that age!
I may have been eight or nine but I didn’t care how big they were or what they were doing. I just wanted to play football.
I grew up in Walsall and started playing for West Bromwich Albion’s second team pretty much straight away.
I played for them for about nine or ten years, playing as an old-school goalkeeper, before joining the first team for the 2017-18 season. Our manager Chris Gordon – who also plays for England Powerchair – is a goalkeeper so he moved me to winger when I started playing for them in the September and by the November I had received my first call-up to an England training camp!
I actually made my England debut at the EUROs in 2019. I was told five or ten minutes before kick-off that I was going to start and I just tried to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
To win the whole tournament was really special, especially as we were the first senior England team since 1966 to win a major tournament.
Growing up brought along its challenges and there were times of frustration, but I realised by my early teens that it doesn’t matter how frustrated I get with everything, it is never going to change. I can get frustrated every day or I can just try to do everything I can.
I have always had a passion for football and was a season ticket holder at West Brom with my dad for as long as I can remember, so I would try to get involved with football in any way I could.
I was at a mainstream school so couldn’t get involved with playing mainstream football so I would do coaching or refereeing just to feel involved – I just had to be involved in football.
The school offered me one-to-one P.E. sessions and things like that but I just wanted to be involved with everyone else.
Coaching is something I have actually carried on and until last season I was coaching the Nomad Knights team but I’m not able to do that as much now as Nomad won the Championship and are playing in the same division as my Aspire team.
My last tournament with England was the Home Nations in Belfast and then I dropped out of the squad for about a year because I had a few issues with my playing levels, my chair set-up and things like that so I wasn’t really at my peak performance.
So I have had to fight my way back into the squad, which I managed to do six months ago.
It has been an exciting last year or so for me, although it felt scary and risky at the start.
I had been at West Bromwich Albion for 15 years, working my way through their pathway and winning four consecutive Premiership titles, before I decided to join Aspire last summer.
Aspire hadn’t won the league in seven years but we ended up winning everything on offer last year and I managed to get my performances back to the level where I earned my England recall, which was my main motivation for joining Aspire.
Now I can’t wait for the World Cup to start on Sunday. This is my second major competition with England and my first World Cup so I’m really excited to get underway.
Winning the EUROs in 2019 proved what we were working on, and what we do, works so it is a case of sticking with the plan and trusting the process even in those difficult situations, which I think the squad have said is where they maybe fell short previously.
Before the EUROs, when the going got tough, we reverted to old ways rather than trusting what we do and I think winning the EUROs showed we are on the right track and when we execute our style of play, no one can cope with it.
We get the goalkeeper heavily involved as an attacking option, which brings with it some risks but when executed correctly, we are playing four-versus-three or four-versus-two and creating those overloads, so it is a case of managing the risk versus reward.
This isn’t my first time out in Australia as back in 2020 I was asked to play in the Australian Club Championships out there to be their ‘guest marquee player’ off the back of the EUROs.
They wanted to adopt some of the England style of using the goalkeeper more so I went out there to play and coach and we ended up winning the whole tournament – I scored within 20 seconds in the final and we won 5-2!It was a great experience and we are playing the World Cup in the same venue so hopefully, I can help the other lads get used to the surroundings.
To anyone who is in a powerchair and thinking about taking up football, I would say: do it. Get involved at the earliest opportunity.
Don’t let your size or condition stop you because when you are on that court, everyone is equal and has the same opportunities.
So just enjoy it and then if you want to pursue it into something more than that, there will be people around who can support you.
Powerchair football is everything to me and it has helped me make lifelong friends across the world.
The guy who reached out to me about playing in Australia was someone I had never met in person, he invited me out there and I ended up living out there with a family I had never met for several weeks.
The powerchair football community is incredible. I have lifelong friends across the world, I met my partner through playing powerchair football and my whole life revolves around powerchair football. So to anyone considering playing powerchair football, I would say just give it a go!
Find disability football