Tom Rogers, a regular at the Sussex Disability Football League has received a call up to the England set up and we couldn’t be more proud.
For Tom, 25, his first steps in the beautiful game back in Crawley, came about in much the same way as many others.
“I think it all started when I was six or maybe seven years-old, when I just started kicking a ball around with my mates,” said Rogers, “but it wasn’t until I started at the Royal College of the Blind, over in Hereford, that things really changed for me.”
For Rogers that change was being introduced to visually impaired Futsal, an adapted form of futsal, also known as B2/3 football.
The rules are based on Futsal, but with a small number of adaptations, for example the ball should be a colour that clearly contrast with the pitch and lines, light must be of equal intensity on all parts of the pitch, and the goalkeeper is unable to leave the penalty area if they are fully sighted.
“Futsal at college was the first time I realised I could actually go and play, and not just play, but play with other people on a level playing field.
“I’d always struggled with mainstream football, because I just wouldn’t get picked for the school teams, as everyone could see, and I couldn’t. So, it was a great feeling to know there was a league for people like me.”
Whilst the Futsal league introduced Rogers to the world of Partially Sighted football, it was getting involved in the Sussex Disability Football League that took things to another level.
“I remember I was just playing 6-a-side with my mates, and one of the coaches happened to also be with Crawley United, who compete in the Sussex Disability Football League.
“He invited me along and I started playing with them on a regular basis at the monthly Sussex Disability League Fixtures”
Through the league, Tom had the opportunity to be selected for the Sussex County FA Disability Representative Squad.
“Before joining Sussex I’d not played much 11-a-side football, so it was definitely a new experience,” said Rogers.
Indeed, such was his lack of experience in playing 11-a-side, that he ended up playing at centre-back when his first game kicked-off.
“They started me out at centre-back for my first game, as that was where I played when I played 7-a-side,” said Rogers.
“However, by the end of the first-half we’d conceded two goals, so rightly the managers made the call to move me to the wing, and we went onto draw the game 2-2, and then win on penalties, so it was definitely the right call to move me up the pitch!”
The squad played in the South East Regional 11-a-side Disability Cup, a Pan-disability competition.
“It was a really good standard,” remembers Rogers, “everyone had their own struggles, be they partially sighted, like me, or have partial hearing.
“We all needed something different from our teammates, but we were all happy to play to everyone’s strengths, which made it such an inclusive environment.
“There was a great team spirit between all of the lads, and the two cup wins we achieved were a testament to how together we were as a unit.”
“Without Ian Hickley-Smith, Pam Chandler and Steve Atkins and the whole of the Representative team, I know I wouldn’t be the player I am today.
Since COVID-19, Rogers has been playing for a variety of clubs, most recently Birmingham Sports Futsal and Worthing FC Inclusive.
But last month, everything changed again for Rogers, when the text came through to invite him to train with the Partially Sighted England Team for the weekend.
“Ever since I was in college and found out there was such a team, I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of.
“But for a long time I hadn’t given it any thought, due to my sight classification, but then I found out that they were opening up spaces for my category on the talent pathway.
“Then a few weeks ago I got the text inviting me to the camp, and I couldn’t believe it”
Rogers went on to add, “the reaction of my mates was firstly just, ‘make sure you bring us back some kit!’, but my family, especially mum, was really happy for me.
“She knew I’d been waiting 10 years for this, so she really wanted to make sure I had a good time, and didn’t put myself down if I didn’t play well, or get much game time.
“But it only really sunk in when I got back from the camp, and realised I’d just been training with the team and under some of the best coaches.”
So after such a long wait, did the experience live up to expectations?
“It really did, but it was certainly challenging at first,” said Rogers.
“I knew the standards and the demands were going to be high, because it was a different level to what I was used to.
“It showed me what I need to do, and the work I need to put in to get to that level, so I can come back, push on, and maybe get that first England cap one day.
Indeed, with his first England camp behind him, the future looks bright for Rogers, and we cant wait to follow his progress.
Tom, the entire league is behind you!