The football team that proves that ‘not everything is going to stop them’

Luc Lander loves football.

The 15-year-old was ready to play with Australia’s Paralympic football team when the COVID-19 health pandemic hit.

“It was quite annoying when COVID came along because I thought I would be able to realise my dreams,” Luc said.

In the meantime, Luc turned his attention to a team that gives him the chance to hone his skills before he makes the big leap.

Canberra United’s All Ability Academy is the first dedicated football academy for people with a disability in the ACT.

The program is designed for players with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injuries or other disabilities — and it gives aspiring footballers like Luc the opportunity to train and play with a diverse group of people.

“There is a variation of disabilities and skill levels,” he said.

“So you can learn to adapt to their disabilities and how to play with them.”

‘There is not too much out there for them’

A woman on a sporting field smiles at the camera.
Kelly Stirton created the All Ability Academy to provide much-needed development opportunities for people with disabilities.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

The All Ability Academy is the brainchild of Capital Football’s game development manager, Kelly Stirton.

“I saw there was a need to create pathways for people with a disability,” Ms Stirton said.

“There is not too much out there for them.”

There are currently 19 players in the Academy, which is open to people of all genders and ages — the youngest player is 10 and the eldest is 44.

Players are given structured, and at times intense, training twice a week, in preparation for games at the CP Football Nationals and the FFA National Futsal Championships.

“It is all about managing them during a game, preventing injury, making them fit for games and building their skills,” Ms Striton, who also coaches the team, said.

Capital Football CEO Phil Brown said that the Academy provided “a development opportunity for our all-ability players”.

“Historically we have been providing opportunities for participation, but not for those players to develop their skills to get up to the next level, and hopefully represent the ACT or Australia,” he said.

That is welcome news to football devotees like Matilda Mason, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

A teenage girl stands smiling, in a soccer jersey on a football pitch.
Matilda Mason has become a mentor for younger players in Canberra United’s All Abilities Academy.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

“When I was younger I had no support or resources, and nor did my family,” she said.

Matilda is a mentor for some of the younger players, and is a senior figure within the team.

She is also working to empower young woman with disabilities who have dreams of playing professional sport.

“I am hoping to promote and provide assistance to younger generations and make sure that they are okay and that they can get somewhere,” Matilda said.

“And not everything is going to stop them.”

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