Nigeria's foremost Online Energy News Platform

Amputee Soccer – The Beginning

*First Kick: September 1982

-Compiled by Saidu Abubakar with Agency reports

Amputee football is a disabled sport played with seven players on each team (six outfield players and one goalkeeper). Outfield players have lower extremity amputations, and goalkeepers have an upper extremity amputation. Outfield players use loftstrand (forearm) crutches, and play without their prosthesis

Don Bennett, of Seattle, Washington, USA, was always active – skiing, boating, mountain climbing. Then he lost his leg to a propeller in a boating accident. That may have changed his style of activities, but not his love for or his level of activity.

One example of his drive to remain active: Don became the first amputee ever to climb Washington’s Mt. Rainier (the second highest peak in North America) on crutches.

Simple Beginnings: Don Bennett created amputee soccer by accident. True.

He was watching his son practice basketball in his back yard. At one point a basketball escaped and began rolling down the driveway. Don, on crutches and without his prosthesis, simply raised up on his crutches and kicked the ball back to his son.

In a flash of insight, Don figured if he could kick a basketball on crutches, he could kick a soccer ball on crutches. It was a deceptively simple beginning to what’s become a world-wide sport.

At the time Bennett was more involved with skiing than soccer. So he and a group of seven other skiers used the game to keep active and stay in condition during the summer while waiting for ski season.

But the game caught on.

In 1985 Bill Barry, a soccer coach with Canadian and US pro team experience, became the coach of a team under the Seattle Handicapped Sports and Recreation Association (SHSRA). He eventually established Amputee Soccer International. Bennett continued to serve as the team’s manager.

It was through his efforts, with the assistance of Don and other members of the Seattle group, that the sport was established in other countries.

Barry traveled through Central America and Eastern Europe introducing the game to anyone who would come out and watch.

At that time The Soviet Union declined to have anything to do with the game because they claimed not to have any handicapped persons.

1984 The first international amputee soccer tournament is held in Seattle, Washington, USA. American Canadian and Central American teams participate.

For the first several years of the game the goals remained regulation size and the game was played on a regulation American style football field.

The Boeing Aircraft Company became a major supporter of the game, sponsoring annual international championship events between 1986 and 1991.

One of Barry’s skills was to attract media attention through a series of exhibition matches held in conjunction with other major sporting events:

Highest governing body: World Amputee Football Federation

Contact: Contact
Team members: 7
Mixed gender: Single
Type: Outdoor (mainly)

1984 A match at Seattle Memorial Stadium before 8,000 people during the US Olympic Soccer Team Tour.

1985 A match before 25,000 fans at a Seattle Mariners New York Yankees baseball game at the Seattle King Dome.

1986 A match seen by 47,000 fans during halftime at a Canadian professional football game.

1994 SoccerFest at the LA Convention Center during the World Cup tournament, and during halftime of an Anaheim Splash (MISL) match in the same time frame.

1987 Pitch and goal size and other rule adaptions adopted to make the game our own.

El Salvador military veterans win the World Cup. Jose Baldimir Melgar Maravilla, a star player for El Salvador nicknamed “Rambo” for his ever present headband, scored a tournament leading six goals for the champions. El Salvador struck a postage stamp in his honour.

1988 Amputee soccer introduced in England by Dr. Gwynn Thomas, British Amputee Sports Association, as a rehabilitation activity. Later in the year England sent a team to Seattle for the 1988 World Cup.

England won the indoor competition and took the Bronze behind El Salvador (Gold) and USA) Silver in the outdoor competition.

1988 Barry introduces amputee soccer in Uzbekistan.

1989 Russia and Brazil establish amputee soccer programs and send teams to the championships.

1991 World Cup tournament, Tashkent, Uzbekistan. First World Cup held outside North America.

Around the world
There are several amputee football associations around the world. A couple of examples of this are the England Amputee Association and The Irish Amputee Football Association. Each organization promotes the advancement of the sport and that it gains more recognition. The England Amputee Football Association states their main goal on their website as: “The England Amputee Football Association’s aim is to provide all amputees, people with congenital limb deficiencies and persons with restricted use of limbs, with the opportunity to play football locally, nationally and internationally.”

Nigeria’s first Amputee World Cup win
After two losses at the 2018 Amputee Football World Cup in Mexico, the Nigerian team, nicknamed ‘Special Eagles’ finally recorded their first victory at the tournament.

The Special Eagles defeated their opponents El Salvador by a lone goal scored by Ezeji Kennedy who was the first Nigerian player to score in an Amputee World Cup.

Although, it was a slim victory, quite historic considering the odds that were against the team in making their debut appearance at the World Cup after missing out on the past three editions due to lack of finance, despite qualifying.

The Special Eagles fell to a 6-0 loss against Brazil in their first game but were confident they would bounce back in their next game.

All did not go as expected in the next game against Russia, as first-half goals from Igor and Adam Mesiev, with a second-half goal by Dmitri Udalov ensured that Russia defeated Nigeria 3-0 to seal the Special Eagles elimination from the Amputee World Cup.

With just a victory in their debut tournament, the Nigerian team had some commendations for their performance at the Amputee World Cup.

A Swedish journalist, Stefan Lovgren, while commending the Nigerian team said “this is the stuff of dreams. We won a game at the World Cup.

“The match was nervy for the crowd and those on the bench. The Nigerians came in strongly into the game, dominated the game especially in the first half. They were faster and stronger than their opponents.”

It was a struggle for the team to appear at the world cup needing major financing to cover travel, camping and logistics costs. It took the goodwill of Nigerians and contributions from the NFF, Super Eagles players, Mikel Obi and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who all donated about N10 million to ensure the team made it to their debut World Cup.“`