Skip to main content
Published 02 May 2024 6 min read
England Para Teams

My Grassroots Story: Azeem Amir

Written by:

Azeem Amir

The England men's blind player takes us through his journey from starting out to representing the Para Lions


My name is Azeem Amir and I play for the England blind men’s team.

I have a condition called Ocular Auricular Syndrome, which means I have no sight in my right eye and only light perception in my left. So I can pick up on light shapes and shadows from an arm’s distance but after that, I can’t really see anything.

A lot of my life is reliant on my other senses, in particular, my hearing, where I try to paint a picture with my hearing. It is almost like I have a sixth sense because I can get an understanding of what is going on and then combine my senses so I can paint a picture of things around me.

Sometimes there are obstacles, even in my own house. For example, my brother or sister might leave a cupboard door open and then there will be a BANG!

Or someone might leave their shoes out. But it is just little day-to-day challenges and I'm quite an organised person so I have a mental map of my workspace, my home space and my gym – I could sit here now and tell you exactly where something is. But then just one change would throw me off completely! Sometimes it can be down to the centimetre where something could be moved but because I know how many steps I need to take or the angles to use, even little changes can throw my radar off.

I was born with my visual impairment but I went to a mainstream school which meant I wasn’t around many other blind or partially sighted people so I found ways that I could integrate with the rest of my class through playing sport and doing PE.

08 Aug 2023 3:48

Azeem Amir's story during South Asian Heritage Month

The England blind men's team player tells his remarkable story

At Brimrod Primary School, whenever the ball was stationary, I would be able to know where the ball was and do something with it. We didn’t really have many high-quality balls back then so when the ball was moving, I couldn’t really follow the ball so I wasn’t very good. But every time the ball would stop, I would try to do something with it.

The school would always try to adapt sports to make sure I could access them but I didn’t find blind football until my teen years. But when I did, it changed my life!

My schools – Brimrod Primary School and Matthew Moss High School – and the pupils I grew up with were class to be fair to them. Things like the climbing wall; obviously I couldn’t see the holes like everyone else so they would use walkie-talkies to tell me where to put my feet. And in badminton, they got a shuttle cock with a massive LED light on it and they dimmed the lights so I could pick up the light when it was closer to my face. I was horrendous still but at least I was able to feel like I was involved.

My favourite adaptation was when they tried to adapt rugby with a really fluorescent rugby ball so I could pick up on the light as it bounced off it. It was great for five minutes but then it got muddy and I couldn’t see anything again!

It was the little things that made a big difference for me. For example, my adapted work would be handed out at the same time as everyone else’s work and if there was something like a ski trip, they would say ‘right Azeem, you are coming with us’ or ‘we are going on a trip Azeem and I am going to guide you’.

Azeem was part of the launch for the new England kits in March 2024
Azeem was part of the launch for the new England kits in March 2024

It isn’t like you need to knock down a whole school to make it blind-friendly. The little things they did made a big difference.

My good friends sometimes actually forget I can’t see because I am such a part of the group and do everything they do. Sometimes we go out for dinner and they will say ‘so, what are you having Azeem?’ ‘Well you kind of need to read me the menu first, pal?’

I didn’t start playing blind football until I was about 15 and growing up, I didn’t even know it existed or there was specialist kit out there. When I was a kid growing up, we would be playing outside my grandma’s house with a flyaway Shoot 5 football, with me listening to the sound of the bounce so I knew where it was so I could kick it.

My interaction with football generally was different too as I would listen to it on the radio which I took out of my dad’s van.

I remember when I started going to games, people would say ‘what is the point of you being here because you cannot see anything?’ But there is so much more to going to a football game, with the atmosphere and audio description so I can take in the matchday experience.

I have been to lots of different sports, like the Ashes cricket and tennis at Wimbledon, so there is so much more to it than just what you see.

Azeem takes a penalty for the Para Lions during one of his appearances
Azeem takes a penalty for the Para Lions during one of his appearances

I only started playing blind football when a Playground to Podium talent tracking event was held at my school as part of the summer games. They introduced me to this thing called blind football, my details were then passed on to a coach and it all went from there.

What I love most about blind football is that once you have your blindfold on, it is an even playing field. The excuses are removed and if someone is playing better than you, it is because they have worked harder to be that good or they have utilised their natural ability with hard work.

I have a home-based training set-up where I have a strength and conditioning area. I will be in there two to three times a week following my programme with a great coach in Rochdale.

I have a Futsal coach as well so I tap into his expertise, working two to three times a week with him as well on a football pitch. We do a lot of one-to-one work, conditioning work and we also have a few other players who come and work with us on some small-sided sessions.

With England we will have Friday and Saturday camps or there might be a game on a Saturday somewhere in the country.

02 May 2024 0:49

Blind football explained

Learn more about the format of football which Azeem plays

I also play domestically for the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) Hereford, having previously played for Merseyside. I obviously work alongside my football so it involves a lot of planning and a lot of scheduling to fit it all in but while it is a challenge, it can all be done.

I'm fortunate that my coaching is supported financially and we have had great support from the FA over the years. I was showing a friend around St. George’s Park recently and it is normal to be there two or three times a month now with our camps, but for someone else to see it and experience it, it makes you realise how fortunate we are.

Every room or changing room is named after a player, we have the cap wall, there is a Futsal pitch, we have a blind football-specific pitch, the men’s and women’s team train here: it is an unbelievable facility and we're very lucky to have that level of support.

Now we are trying to help para football get more awareness, more recognition, more supporters, more partners and more corporate sponsors so it will help the players, the teams and the sport as a whole.

I've been very fortunate with my football. In 2018 I received my first England senior team call-up and made my debut out in Japan at the World Grand Prix.

It was such an amazing feeling to represent your country and I will never forget that adrenaline rush I got in those first 30 seconds when I made my debut. Since then, I've been fortunate enough to travel around the world – to Brazil, Argentina, Japan and most of Europe – competing in World Championships and European Championships.

Some people will see a blind person walking down the street and think it is so inspirational but actually, we can do so much more than that. I have a master's degree in sports management from the University of Salford, I have done a Tough Mudder assault course, I am preparing to do a triathlon and I do tough challenges for charities and organisations.

I also run my own business called Learn with ESS, which delivers disability awareness training to schools, corporate businesses and organisations to help them better understand what a day in the life of someone with a disability is like.

Our biggest project so far was that we partnered with FIFA for the World Cup in Qatar to deliver workshops. It was a really cool experience and I’m hoping we will continue to be involved with major tournaments and sports moving forward.

Some people might see a blind person and think they have a low quality of life but I personally believe I live a better lifestyle and life than 99 percent of sighted people. I just make things work. There are always going to be certain things I can’t do but there are always alternatives and as long as I know I have tried, that is all I can do.

I want to help inspire people to try as many new things as possible and maybe change their mindset because it is easy to feel sorry for yourself in life, whether that is because of your disability, mental health struggles, financial challenges or anything else, there is always a way you can make something out of your life.

I hope I can inspire the next generation and maybe change society in some way, even if it is just them thinking back and saying ‘do you remember that blind footballer who came into school and even though he was blind, he still managed to play football. There is so much I can do’.