Bradford’s deaf footballers tackle issues on and off the pitch
Tim Perera is the goalkeeper for Bradford United Deaf Football Club and reckons he’s a pretty safe pair of hands. He’s not infallible of course – the team finished third in the league last season – but wins and losses aren’t the only measure of success.
Tim, 30, said, “Deaf football isn’t just about football. There’s a whole deaf community centred around the club which brings people from different parts of the deaf community together.”
The social gatherings following the Thursday evening training sessions and the Tuesday evening gym sessions, are just as important as the action on the field. Older players mentor younger players about issues such as employability and access to skills training and a small group of asylum seekers who play for the club have been learning British Sign Language (BSL) as they dribble, pass and head the ball.
It’s fair to say Bradford United Deaf FC is thriving, thanks, in part, to funding made possible by National Lottery players. The support has enabled the club to expand from about 15 members in late 2019 to more than 50. A development team has been created alongside the first team and the club regularly travels across England to play weekend matches in the England Deaf Football league.
Tim, whose deafness was diagnosed when he was 3, said, “The club is doing really well and there’s been a big influx of players thanks to National Lottery funding. It paid for engagement work on social media and some of the social events that keep people engaged with the club. Without the funding the club would probably have fizzled out like some of the other clubs in the league.”
Saj Mahmood, 40, is a volunteer at Bradford United Deaf FC and director of Peak Tuition Academy, a social enterprise helping the club develop. He said having a club exclusively for deaf players is important because “an issue that some members of the deaf community have is that they don’t classify themselves as disabled – they have a sensory impairment. They’re able-bodied and very fit – far fitter than I am – and when it comes to football they want their own team.”
To a casual observer, a match between deaf teams looks and sounds much like any other football match. There is more use of sign language and if the referee doesn’t know BSL, the players read his or her lips.
There is, in short, no shortage of communication on the field. Tim said, “Deaf people face all sorts of social and communication barriers, but when they get on the pitch everyone is deaf and the communication is free flowing.”
12th October 2022
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