Welling United Academy are proud to embark on a partnership with Adaptive Sports Innovations [ASI] on an exciting and life-changing project that will enable less-abled people to play football on grass in a specially-designed wheelchair that will closely mirror the national and international game of football.
As part of the partnership, Park View Road, the home of Welling United, will be hosting the world’s first grass wheelchair football match in 2024.
Stage one will see the development of a prototype based upon a foundation prototype wheelchair design that supports mobility on a grass surface (including both football and rugby).
Plans are already under way to raise funds via sponsorship and grants to support the engineering, prototyping and build of the wheelchairs.
It is the club’s vision that Welling United will become the national partner and London hub for community and elite wheelchair football.
Welling United Community Officer and former Wings Chairman, Paul Whitehead, who has been directly involved with helping with the design and functionality of the prototype wheelchair in recent months, added: “It’s an absolute pleasure for Welling United to be embarking on this journey alongside ASI.
“One of our core values as a football club is to be an all-inclusive hub for our community, so to support something as ground-breaking as the world’s first wheelchair for grass sport, it’s extremely important to us.
“When we host the first wheelchair football match next year, it will be a hugely proud moment for this club and the community.”
ASI, (formerly the Adaptive Boxing Organisation) was set up by Colin Wood, who grew up in Welling, and his business partner Damian Gray after Wood was diagnosed with Uveitis, a rare disease which left him blind.
A former semi-pro rugby player, he took up a role as Head Coach of Chesterfield Spires where he was asked to help a blind, aspiring rugby coach named Ben Noble at Sheffield Eagles. This led to designing a rugby ball for blind players, which helped the sport reach a wider audience of participation with the help of ex-England RFL winger Dean Thomas.
“The thought process was about how we could adapt other sports to be more inclusive and reach a standard of that of able-bodied participants, with the goal of growing a professional tier of adaptive athletes – something which is missing in today’s society, across most sports,” explained Wood.
“This led to assisting a good friend, two-time world boxing champion, Gary Murray, in opening access for adaptive boxing through a specially-designed wheelchair, which we achieved.
“That then led to creating a wheelchair that would allow adaptive players to play on grass and the creation of the first ever Barbarians wheelchair rugby squad and now the goal is to achieve something similar with football.”
“The goal of ASI is, and always will be, to bring people together and to help disabled people realise their dreams of becoming professional athletes,” he continued.
“We’re delighted to be working with Welling United and, as my local club, it’s fantastic that they can be involved with something that we hope can be hugely beneficial for so many people.”
Brett Smith, Welling United Academy director said: “We’re delighted to be partnering with ASI.
“Growing our community offering to include access to wheelchair football is such an exciting prospect and is fundamental to our inclusivity agenda. “We’re very proud to have supported and developed our deaf teams and now have an opportunity to make wheelchair football a reality and accessible for all.”
Supporters can keep an eye out for updates in the coming months as well as news on how you can help support the project.