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Published 30 May 2024 4 min read
England Para Teams

Adam Lione: My grassroots story

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Adam Lione

The England Partially Sighted star tells us his grassroots football story

I still remember the day I joined my first disability football team

I was 15 or 16 and playing at a decent level in the mainstream game. I was given a letter by my school inviting me to a Paralympic taster day. The idea was you go and try all these different sports and they find one that works for you. You aim towards getting into that sport competitively but I remember thinking at the time I didn't want to go because whenever I'd played disability football I was always one of the best there. Quite wrongly, I maybe looked down on it a little bit. The school said I could have a day off to go so I thought I may as well.

I went along and there were football stands there and I did well so they said if I want to get into it there's a team called the Rochford Disability Football Academy. They play in the Essex Disability Academy and they train every week. I went for it and it really changed my perspective on it because it was a pan disability team. At 15 years old I didn't know how to deal with people with other disabilities and I didn't even know much about my own. I played with someone who had Down's syndrome, another with autism, another with learning difficulties, another with cerebral palsy. I learned a lot and became quite educated on those conditions. It helped me play more often but I grew up as a person as well.

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I was always reasonably comfortable with my own disability. I had it from birth and I had eye cancer as a baby. I was born with retinoblastoma so I lost my left eye at six months old and I had years of treatment on my right eye. I never really knew any different and my mum was very supportive and good at making me aware of what I'd been through. It didn't obviously affect me but maybe subconsciously I wasn't very good at coming to terms with what had happened. When I got into disability football it makes you aware of people who are more impaired than you and you also see people who are on a similar wavelength. When you build those friendships it helps you come to terms with it and becomes a bit of a safe space.

I started playing football when I was very young, maybe five or six. I was straight into football and loved it straight away. I grew up in Wickford in Essex and my first team was called Essex Royals, a very small grassroots Sunday League team. I remember always wanting to be a striker and wanting to score goals all the time. I played for them until I was 12 or 13, when I started playing at a higher level.

From around the age of 11 to 14, there were a lot of London premier League clubs that were running visually impaired youth teams. Arsenal had one, Tottenham had one, QPR, Charlton. We used to play at Highbury a lot – showing my age – so once a month I'd do that and I'd quite commonly go up to Arsenal for training. My mum and dad were driving me over an hour to play at Highbury every week, which is mad thinking back. I was on ITV News when I was 13 promoting it at Tottenham. We did a session there and they did a feature for TV.


It was through Rochford that I eventually got my break with England. I had a coach there called Bob Pointer, who was really good with me and pushed me as well. He wanted me to play at a higher level and he came across the England Partially Sighted team and got me a trial. He literally came up to me in training one day and told me. Being a disability coach is one of the toughest things you can do because you have to have communication skills and patience. He understood that and on the flip side he pushed me and wanted me to progress. Sometimes you meet people who just get it and Bob was one of them. There are moments of adversity in life and football as a disabled person and he looked after me. He changed my life.

A couple of weeks later a letter came through and I remember the trial was 6 March 2010. It's one of those dates that sticks with me. I got into the development squad, the first one England ever had. And then a month later we had our first ever training camp. I did that for about 18 months and then got my first senior cap when I was 17. Six months later I played in the World Cup in Japan.

It could have tired to play semi-professional mainstream football because that's just the norm or seen as an achievement. But to have actually played for England for 12 years and make some of the best memories of my life has been incredible. It's completely different but so rewarding.

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