Everton's Amputee team were crowned FA Disability Cup champions on Saturday after securing a 4-2 victory in an enthralling contest against Portsmouth at St George’s Park.
The Blues went ahead in the 23rd minute through Rhyce Ramsden, who poked home a clever back-heel from Liam Burbridge. A flurry of goals arrived in the second half as Ramsden grabbed his second soon after the restart to extend Everton’s advantage.
Portsmouth reduced the deficit moments later, but the Toffees went straight down the other end and made it 3-1 through Dave Tweed.
In what was proving to be a topsy-turvy contest, Pompey again fought back via an excellent long-range free-kick. However, Everton’s victory was sealed in injury-time when Jamie Oakey converted smartly following an exquisite through ball from the on-fire Ramsden, handing the Blues their first success in the competition since 2019.
Reflecting on the contest, Blues' manager and Everton in the Community’s Disability coordinator Mark Dolan said: “Our game plan was to soak up pressure and then hit them on the counter. It worked well.
"The game was intense but that’s what it’s often like. The format is different from normal football. It’s seven-a-side and the goalkeepers are restricted to their small area. That comes into play, which you see with the weight of the pass for our fourth goal. It landed on the very edge of the box where the goalkeeper can’t come out. Our lad got a toe to it and slotted it home. That sealed the game for us.
“But overall, it’s really fast-paced and people are surprised at the agility and strength of the players. The game can be similar to basketball - it’s fast with lots of transitions and it goes end to end quickly.”
🏆 A magnificent weekend for Everton and our disability project as our Amputee side clinched the FA Disability Cup live on @btsport with a 4-2 win over Portsmouth.✊— Everton in the Community (@EITC) June 26, 2023
⬇️ Watch all four of our goals courtesy of @btsport below. pic.twitter.com/i65dGeGHOW
One of Everton’s stars in Saturday’s win was Club captain, Martin Heald. The dominant defender lost his leg in 2006 at just 15 after developing cancer behind the knee. It was during his rehabilitation process that he learned of amputee football and has enjoyed a glistening club and international career playing it ever since.
“After my treatment, I was in a facility where you get your prosthetics and I saw in a magazine an advert for amputee football,” Heald explains. “I said to my dad, 'I want to give that a go'. I went down to watch a session, then started playing soon after and the rest is history.
"It takes time to build your body to compete. You do a lot of triceps dips in the gym, conditioning your arms for the crutches, but I love it."
Heald believes the exposure from Saturday’s final - which was shown live on BT Sport and shared across its social media channels - could help to encourage more participation and growth in the game going forward.
“Outlets like BT Sport getting involved helps us to really grow the game,” he says. “It is hard to compete with the likes of the Paralympics because if you get in the GB team, you get paid and you get looked after.
“You don’t get that on our end; we’ll often have to raise money to go to tournaments. As a sport, it’s not glorified as much as the Paralympics so getting all the exposure on channels and social media has helped massively.
“There are so many people in my situation who don’t know about amputee football. For example, Liam Burbridge on our team, he’d never seen it anywhere. He produced football videos on TikTok but had no idea about the game. Then one of my teammates, Jamie Oakey, reached out to him and invited him down. But for so long, he had no idea amputee football existed. He loves it now.”
Like Heald, Burbridge makes up part of the six players within the Everton squad who also represent England. Most of those played a role in helping the Three Lions clinch the inaugural Nations League title just two weeks ago. Blues manager Dolan is also a coach within the national team set-up.
“In terms of rest and recovery from the England success, I would rather this final came a couple of weeks later than it did, but it all worked out in the end,” laughed Dolan.
“We train with England once a month over the course of a weekend, while with Everton we meet every Wednesday.
“We have other impairment-specific groups as well who train on a Wednesday night with the amputee team. I’d say we class the amputee team as our most elite given the England pathway, and how many representatives we have in that England side.
“Therefore, it’s our duty to put on as much as we can to give them the best platform to represent the country and at Everton, we make sure we do that.”
While making sports accessible for young people and adults is one of Dolan’s priorities as EitC’s Disability Development Coordinator, he also believes Saturday was evidence there’s more on offer for adults and young people with disabilities interested in sports than simply participating.
"For us and me in my role, it’s all about creating opportunities for people with disabilities similar to what non-disabled peers would have,” he says. “We have a massive school programme, we work in adult day centres, we have half-term holiday camps, these are all things we provide for young people and adults with disabilities.
“It’s important for us to give these platforms, but Saturday shows there’s even more to it. We can also be successful competitively, you know, winning FA Cup finals, playing at the highest level. For us, it’s about finding that balance between participation opportunities and that platform to compete, too. I think here at Everton we do that well.”
Asked how people interested in such programmes can get involved, Dolan explained: “All our details our online, we have various numbers and emails that people can use to get in touch with us.
“They can arrange to come down and take part in our stuff. Our disability teams train on a Wednesday evening, anybody from all ages is welcome to come and take part in them."
For more information about Everton in the Community's disability programmes, click here.