The first Premier League Down’s Syndrome Football Festival took place on 21 March 2011 and was a success, with teams from all over England taking part in the professional surroundings of Fulham’s Motspur Park training ground.
Thanks to a Premier League and Football Aid donation of £19,333, the Down’s Syndrome Association (DSA) invited nine teams, 84 players and their families to a special day that marked the start of the year’s annual Down’s Syndrome awareness events and came a day before World Down’s Syndrome Day.
The festival not only gave the players the chance to take part in what for many of them was a first competitive football tournament, but also provided an opportunity for disability coaches from all over the country to develop their skills and gain a better understanding of Down’s Syndrome football.
The players were split into two groups, older (13 and over) and younger (12 and under); the younger group engaged in football activities like Dribble Relay and Ring of Fire before ending with a fun match, while the older group played a round robin in six-a-side format, every team playing six matches that lasted eight minutes each.
Premier League Head of Community Development Simon Morgan said he hoped the day would be the first of many as the Premier League aims to get young people with Down’s Syndrome involved in regularly playing football.
“As part of the Premier League’s Creating Chances programme we have been involved with the DSA for a while and this is a perfect scheme for the Premier League to be involved with,” said Morgan.
“Days like that make a really positive difference to people with Down’s Syndrome. They need the opportunity to participate in football and lead a more active lifestyle and it also gives the children’s parents the opportunity to come together and share their experiences.
“The event proves the power football has to reach everyone in the community. This isn’t a one-off event. The objective is to get more clubs involved so these children get the chance to play weekly football with a competitive element.”
After the festival, coaches attended a workshop to discuss the special considerations that are needed when they work with Down’s Syndrome players, how to go about setting up a team and how to get the local community involved.
During the session, a new coaches resource produced by the DSA was unveiled, designed to address the bespoke needs of players who have Down’s Syndrome.