143 caps in a career spanning 25 years

  • 03 December 2020

Stephen Daley represented England partially sighted Futsal 143 times in a career spanning 25 years and has played in 9 European Championships and 9 World Cup Tournaments in the B2/B3 category. 

Stephen captained the team for 23 years, being the longest serving England Captain. Stephen’s passion for developing good people, connecting with others and listening to people’s stories comes across as powerful tools to make one feel like they matter. 

“I wasn’t born partially sighted, I was fully sighted, and I played mainstream football in Northern Ireland. Played all the way through to just before I got to high school and then started noticing that I was struggling to read stuff."

A disability school wasn’t an option for Stephen when growing up and his school didn't know what to do as they had never experienced anyone with a disability. For years they were trying to figure out what the problem was and it took them 3 years to diagnose that he was visually impaired. 

"I was still coping in football and sport in general, but it became apparent that there was an impairment that would never get fixed so I had to declare it to the football club, up until then I had managed to get away with it because I was quick. Then I got told that I was never going to play football."

He struggled in school but guessed most of the answers through his GCSE exams as he couldn’t read the questions. At around the age of 17, Stephen played his last game for the Glens and that was it for him as he had been told: “You aren’t going to get a contract”. Losing football which had always been a huge part of his life sent him off the rails, getting into a lot of trouble and he wasn’t bothered that academically he failing because it didn’t interest him.

"My parents were struggling and there were 6 of us in the family. I was a teenager and was getting with people that I shouldn’t have got in with. So my parents had to make a decision. At the time they were approached by Loughborough College who support young people with eye conditions. They sent me, but not for the education, but to get out of Northern Ireland. My school attendance had been just 15% and I had never left Northern Ireland, and then suddenly came to this place."

He'd never been around disability in his life, but was still trying to come to terms with his own. Now surrounded by other people with eye conditions, but he didn’t know them and never spoke to them.

 

"I remember one night that changed my life. I met this guy. He was about six foot six, built like a tank, well-educated, but totally blind. I grabbed a beer, he was sitting down and he just said to me. Come on Steve, tell me a bit more about you. I just said 'well there’s not a lot to tell'. Then I said 'tell me a little bit about you'. So he told me a story. He was 24, he had his own job, he was engaged, playing rugby for a top club, he was around the England team, everything going for him in his life. One night he was driving home and his tape fell on the floor so he bent down to pick it up and when he got back up a 18 tonne truck smashed right through his car so he ended up in a coma, he had to get his face rebuilt, he was paralysed, blind. So, he had to learn to walk again, he lost his business, his fiancée and him eventually split up and his best mate took his place in the rugby team."

Reflecting on this, Daley remembers feeling guilty for having felt sorry for himself all this time when actually there are people with much bigger challenges in their life. It was this experience that really changed his mind-set.

"He became a really good friend of me at the time and he just inspired me to get back. He trained a lot and started to get me back into the gym. Some people invited me to play in a five a side competition. So I knew I could play as you never really lose the ability to play the game. You just have to learn a little bit different."

Daley started to allow people in to his life and what found that the more people he allowed in his life, the richer life became. Just because you have an impairment it doesn’t mean that you can’t go and do what you want to do.

"I actually see my disability as what’s made me and what I am today. The people that I’ve got around me is because I’m visually impaired. Actually if I wasn’t, I'm not sure I’d ever play international football and probably not be in a good place. So, everything I’ve got is because I’m partially sighted!"

"Getting the MBE was nice but do you know what was nicer? The messages from people. What you soon realise is the impact that it had on other people. Anybody can get a medal. The one thing people can’t get is the memories, or the messages, or the connection with the people that you have gone through to get the medal. The medal is just a symbol."

Daley believes that one of the main challenges is that there is a fear factor from people around disability. What happens if  don’t say the right thing? What happens if I don’t coach the right way? He believes that it’s about changing people’s mentality, views, perceptions which is a far greater story. 

"I always stick by ‘treat people the way you would want to be treated yourself’. Recognise them for their ability, recognise their strengths, look at where you can support them and give people your time. Forget being a player or coach, just be a good person. People really value that I am there and they make me feel whether I have a disability or not, that I am good at it."

So, it goes back to that the full circle ‘behind every person there’s a story’. How long it takes you to get the story depends on how that relationship goes between you and them. 

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