Norwich goalball club seeks new members to become a league of their own

Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club. Grayham Forsythe-Fields gives Morgan Smith some coaching. Picture

Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club. Grayham Forsythe-Fields gives Morgan Smith some coaching. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Disability sport has come a long way in recent years, largely thanks to the raised profile of the Paralympic Games and Prince Harry's Invictus Games.

Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club. Pictured is Marcus Dunn from Wicklewood. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club. Pictured is Marcus Dunn from Wicklewood. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

But a club in Norwich is appealing for people with visual impairments to try their sport so they can offer a greater level of competition for all ages.

The Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club was formed in 2008 by sensory support worker John Milligan. It gives people with limited or no sight the chance to socialise as well as take part in physical activity alongside others who understand the challenges that presents.

At their training sessions at City College every other Thursday players of all ages, from as young as nine to teenagers and adults, don blackout goggles, elbow and knee pads and spend two hours hurling themselves and a basketball sized ball filled with bells around the sports hall.

Teams of three-a-side take turns to attack and defend with the aim of hitting the wall behind the defending team to score.

Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club. Morgan Smith. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club. Morgan Smith. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

But the shortage of players means there is no opportunity to split the teams into children, or cubs, and adults.

Marcus Dunn, nine, from Wicklewood, joined the club six months ago and loves the sport. He was a keen footballer until leukaemia robbed him of most of his sight nearly three years ago.

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Mum Barbara and dad David said it was already helping him in many ways.

'The best thing is that he has been able to meet other people like him,' said Mrs Dunn. 'It gives him, and us, hope that everything is going to be OK.

Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

'He gets frustrated that he can't play football for a club like his brothers so we would really like to encourage more visually impaired children to join so they can have enough to make up teams and even have their own league.'

Coach John said children were often marginalised when it came to team sports but goalball can be played by anyone as the blackout goggles puts them all on a level playing field.

'What it really does is gives people confidence and teaches teamwork,' he said. 'It is fantastic for youngsters like Marcus to see other people in their situation enjoying sport as well as having social lives, jobs, families and it gives them aspirations.'

• To find out more contact John Milligan on 07876 145918 or email john.milligan@norfolk.gov.uk.

Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Norwich and Norfolk Goalball Club. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Goalball factfile

Goalball was invented in 1946 by Austrian, Hanz Lorenzen, and German Sepp Reindle, in an effort to help in the rehabilitation of blinded war veterans.

The game was introduced to the world in 1976 at the Paralympics in Toronto and has been played at every Paralympic Games since.

The purpose of the game is for each team to throw the ball by hand, along the floor, with the intent of getting it across the opponent's goal line.

The goals extend across the 9m width at each end of the court.

The ball is made of hard rubber and has holes in it that allow bells inside the ball to be heard as the ball moves.

Eyeshades must be worn by all players.

A game is a total of 24 minutes divided into two halves of 12 minutes each and players change ends at half time but a game will end if one team leads the other by 10 goals.

A determined youngster

Marcus Dunn was diagnosed with high count acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a rare and aggressive form, just days after his seventh birthday in December 2014. He was rushed to intensive care at Great Ormond Street Hospital and his parents and brothers Toby and Ollie were told to prepare for the worst and say goodbye.

But against all odds he started to respond to treatment and by the February he was in remission although the disease destroyed the sight in one eye and caused impaired vision in the other.

He is still taking daily chemotherapy and has hospital visits for treatment and check ups but when treatment ends next April the family just has to 'wait and see'.

David Dunn said: 'He is very determined but there are things he can't do any more. But we know there are many children worse off than him and we feel very lucky that he is still with us.'

A game for all ages and abilities

10-year-old Morgan Smith punches the air when the ball whizzes past the defenders and strikes the back wall for a goal.

Brought to training by his grandmother Sue Higginbotham the Lingwood youngster, who suffers from a condition in which his eyes suffer from involuntary rapid movements, clearly loves every minute of his goalball experience.

'He never wants to miss training,' said Mrs Higginbotham. 'It has given him a lot more confidence.

'It would be nice for him to have more youngsters at the club.'

Experienced goalball player Grayham Forsythe-Fields, from Norwich, naturally takes youngsters under his wing and encourages them on court.

He has been playing for around four years and has been completely blind since he was a teenager.

His wife Danny said he would like to be able to play more regularly.

'We run a creative writing project for kids and teens so he enjoys the coaching role with the younger players,' she said.

'At the same time he would like to play more competitively but he holds back because of the youngers ones as he can't bowl the ball too hard against them.

'This club could really expand and have its own league if we could get the players.'

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