Match Reports - Friday 27th September
Today’s stand out game featured the two sides that are arguably the strongest in the League 1 division: AFC Dunstable vs Hitchin Town. They were both more than prepared to show their class as Hitchin made sure the game was competitive right from the first whistle with a well taken free kick just going wide through a forest of Dunstable defenders. Dunstable attempted to counter Hitchin’s impressive start through the pace of wide man Jack, even forcing a few good saves from the opposition’s keeper. This wasn’t to falter Hitchin Town who managed to find the back of the net shortly before the end of a well contested first half. Shortly after the restart, Dunstable were able to draw level after taking advantage of confusion in the Hitchin penalty area. This forced a tactical reshuffle from Hitchin in order to take control of the game but it wasn’t to be as Dunstable’s persistence paid dividends when a good passing move that started from the back ended in a goal to make it 2-1. The match was a great advertisement for PAN disability football with both sides producing a strong display.
Today marked the first appearance of a potential team from Norfolk based King’s Lynn. They took on a strong Dunstable side that would be expecting an easy ride against the inexperienced Lynn, who were further hindered when a number of players struggled to make the fixture. Dunstable started the match in powerful fashion applying plenty of early pressure but it didn’t take long for Lynn to settle down into the speed of the game.
Lynn showcased a great appetite that will bode them well in the annual fixtures. Despite Dunstable having the majority of possession, Lynn scored from a counter attack that highlighted a number of strengths in the new team. Although Dunstable were exploited when they committed too many players forward, however they soon drew the scores level with two goals in quick succession. The second goal was the pick of the bunch after a fine solo run capped of a strong display from the side. This was not to take anything away from Lynn who showed a lot of passion and glimpses of what they could offer with a full side and time to settle into the league.
The Ability Counts League is for 16+ year olds with PAN disabilities. The players represent local clubs and day care centre’s across 3 divisions: Championship, League 1, League 2 and there is also a School League (U16). The league is affiliated with 15 teams between them with a number of new teams that are interested to join in the new season. The leagues are now in their 8th year and continue to go from strength to strength. The teams have shown the kind of commitment that most teams would love to have, 90% of the adults who started the league still play and with a slight hint of a cliche it's just truly inspiring.
The league is set up to provide PAN disability groups with competitive matches along with an environment designed to improve both their social skills and develop them as people. The players are able to work with qualified coaches and become well rounded footballers. A quick chat with the Hitchin Town captain explained to me that he was once a feature of the well acclaimed Luton Town academy. Dan also explained that the reason his six years have gone so smoothly is down to the respect that the lads pay each other and the social side of the event which takes place once a month.
It goes without saying that funding is very much appreciated and the league is no different. The FA and the Rotary Club of Dunstable play a large role in this with the Rotary Club giving a very generous sum that is massively appreciated by both the staff and the players involved in the event. The remainder is generated through affiliation fees that each team pays to join the league. The event is a great way for both young and disabled referees to get involved in football who may preside over these events. It's an amazing opportunity for them to gain invaluable experience into different areas of the beautiful game.
Fancy getting involved yourself? The league runs from March to November and opens many more opportunities within football. Every player competes on equal grounds and everyone goes away with the same trophy regardless of their league position. From new players and teams to additional sponsorship, the league is constantly on the lookout to ensure the sport continues to grow and develop. For all of the people involved in the league it provides something they wouldn't else have, or as player stated "A sense of belonging in our local community."