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U’s Crowned Champions at Cobham Festival

25 July 2023

On Saturday 15th July, Colchester United Community Foundation took a group of pupils from our local partner schools to a Premier League Pan-Disability Football Festival, which took place at Chelsea’s Cobham Training Centre.

Cobham, which sees the Chelsea first team training each day, played host to over 10 representative teams from professional football clubs around the country, across multiple age groups, with the U’s representative team winning the KS2 age bracket!

Across the day, the U’s played 10 fixtures, with the morning format being a round-robin in which all teams played each other once, in 8 minute games, followed by a league table format in the afternoon, where games extended to 12 minutes.  The 6v6 format of games allowed all of the players to get an equal share of time playing, starting games and taking turns as subs.

Aside from the U’s, representative clubs included Burton Albion, Exeter, Leyton Orient, Bournemouth and Southampton, as well as the older age bracket featuring teams from Arsenal, Brighton-and-Hove Albion, Watford and Crystal Palace.

During the afternoon, the U’s not only went unbeaten, but didn’t conceded a single goal in the league fixtures, to finish top of the table and lift the trophy!

Coaches on the day, Luke and Milo, commented that “The day was a great success, not because of the winning, but to highlight, celebrate and give access to a once-in-a-lifetime experience for young children with a range of learning difficulties and disabilities, that they may not usually be afforded.” With Milo adding, “The disability festival hosted by the Premier League and Chelsea Foundation was a fantastic event for all. Me and Luke had just as much fun as the boys did through watching and coaching. Our aim was to bring home the Fair Play/Sportsmanship award, but the boys were fantastic and won our whole tournament.”

Testimonies from the day, below, show how much the participants enjoyed their day!

Colchester United would like to thank the Premier League for organising such a fantastic event, and Chelsea Football Club for hosting.

Ted Smith – “Ted had a wonderful day! It was amazing for him to be accepted and to meet like-minded children. It was really wonderful to see, as he has lots of difficulties in school. The boys that he played with, their parents and their coaches were simply fantastic. Thank you so much for the opportunity; in Ted’s words ‘It was the best day of my life, ever!’”

Flynn Gates – “Flynn had an amazing time, thank you once again for taking him along and giving him that experience. We would love to continue to hear more about events in the future.”

Thomas Bishop – “What an amazing day! Thomas had a truly wonderful time, the experience was so special and he has loved sharing the day with friends and family.“

I also spoke with Elliott, who plays within the Club’s Boys Development Centre, alongside his parents, about his experience of the day.

“Elliott, how did you feel about being invited to play at Chelsea, representing Colchester United and taking part in the tournament?”
“I felt nervous at first, but then became really excited once we got to Cobham.”
Mum & Dad added – “We thought it was an amazing opportunity for Elliott to be able to play football and be able to be himself, as well as for us to speak to other parents and share our experiences of having a child with diverse needs.”

“Have you ever taken part, or had the chance to take part, in a pan-disability festival of any kind before?”

“No, this was my first time at something like this.”

“What was your favourite part of the day, or event?”

“Playing against Exeter City, when I saved a penalty! Then I went outfield for a bit and scored against Bournemouth.”

“With pan-disability now being more celebrated, promoted and accessible, do you feel this is a positive move and one you’re pleased to have made the most of?”

“Yes, definitely and I’d definitely like to do it again.”

“This was a great initiative, and we would encourage anyone else to take part in future events. We got just as much out of it as Elliott did!”

“Winning must have been nice, but I’m sure you didn’t expect to come away with a trophy! How did it feel and would you have still enjoyed the day if you hadn’t won?”

“Yes, I would have still enjoyed the day if we hadn’t won, because of the people that I met. Winning made me feel really happy, though, as some of the players hadn’t played football before.”

“It was such a lovely thing to see. Very emotional. They got better with each game and became friends very quickly. The smile on their faces when lifting the trophy says it all really.

Elliott plays for the Col U development squad as well but this was such a valuable experience for us all. We would definitely support any future events as it is important for Elliott to acknowledge who he is and not be afraid to be proud about it. Also a great opportunity for parents of kids with diverse needs to share experiences and advice.”

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