Brandon Coleman training at Front Lawn Community Hub

Hampshire Para Lion gears up for IBSA World Games 2023

We caught up with England Blind Footballer Brandon Coleman, training at Hampshire FA's Front Lawn Community Hub ahead of this summer’s tournament.

Brandon’s journey commenced in 2012, when he began to lose sight due to a genetic condition known as Leber's Optic Neuropathy left him feeling purposeless, unmotivated and in his own words “useless to society”. Little did he know that just over a decade on, he would go on to achieve 63 caps and 29 goals for the England Para Blind football team, whilst training for the 2023 IBSA World Games.

Transitioning through the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford, Brandon’s love for football, matched with his dedication, hard work, and infectious enthusiasm paved the way him to claim his first England cap in 2016. He would then go on to feature in three European tournaments and the 2018 IBSA World Blind Football Championship.

The FA’s England Para Talent Pathway has provided Brandon with opportunities to face-off against the best footballing nations in the world, as well as develop his individual skills and abilities, with access to funding, coaching & training resources, and the ability to train in England Football’s home at St. George’s Park.

None of these successes come without setbacks, however. The disappointment of missing out on qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics took a toll on Brandon’s confidence and motivation to carry on developing as a player with England.

Brandon stepped away from the sport for a period of four months and in his mind, this was the last time he’d kick a ball on a football pitch. “I thought it was going to be forever, but I stepped away because I needed a bit of a break. It got to a stage where I took it for granted - the training, games, representing England – I stopped appreciating what got me there” says the England international.

Easing himself back into the game he loves, Brandon decided to focus his attention on doing it purely for the enjoyment of the sport once more. Removing income from the equation, he began to push himself once again and most importantly find his love for enjoying the sport simply for what it was.

“Once I got the love back for the game, I am now starting to push myself to the level everybody is telling me I have the potential of getting to.”

One of those who always believed in Brandon’s potential is Adam Bendall – his former RNC Sports Academy coach, and now the manager of the England Para blind Football team. “He believed in me and had faith in what I was doing. He saw me as a bit of a lad and we had a bit of a laugh together, but we also trained a lot as he saw a lot of potential in me.”

Brandon describes his ability to get back up on his feet and re-join the game as one of his best accomplishments in life, restoring his life purpose and confidence, which changed him as a person.

It’s that very confidence that sparks Brandon’s pride in his second-best career accomplishment – his equalising goal against Argentina in the quarter-final of the 2018 World Cup.

“We were 1-0 down, and I scored a free-kick in the last two minutes to take us to penalties. That was an unbelievable feeling – probably the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life” says Coleman, who looks to replicate his goal-scoring ability at this year’s IBSA World Games 2023 in Birmingham.

As part of Coleman’s training ahead of the tournament, the England winger has been using the Hampshire FA Front Lawn Community Hub 3G pitch in Havant as the training base for sessions with his performance coach, Jack.

“Brandon and Jack use our facility on most Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and it’s absolutely fantastic to see that community pitches like ours are able to support someone’s journey from the darkest points in their life, to the big stage of world championships, and hopefully even the Paralympic Games” says Declan Hellyer, Facility Manager at Front Lawn Community Hub.

Brandon Coleman with his trainer Jack Plummer

Moving forward, Coleman’s story is one that can certainly inspire young footballers who look to the Para Talent Pathway as an option in developing their football skills despite of disability. At a County level, Hampshire FA support The FA’s Para Talent Pathway through dedicated operation of affiliated and recreational opportunities for disabled footballers. “We are always on the lookout for the next Brandon Coleman and believe in flexible, inclusive and accessible playing opportunities for everyone to be able to showcase their talent and enjoy the game of football” says Glenn Brailey, Hampshire FA Recreational Football Disability Lead.

“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, just enjoy your football” is the message Brandon gives to those aspiring young footballers and says that the key to growth in the game is the enjoyment of it, before anything else.

Saying that, hard work is just as key if your desire is to reach a top level. “You’ve got to be able to make sacrifices and work hard. You need to be able to put yourself out there, travel far and get up early to access those opportunities” explains Brandon.

The England Para Blind Football team will kick-off their IBSA 2023 campaign on Tuesday 15th of August at the University of Birmingham Bournbrook 3G pitch, hoping to reach the final of the competition on the 25th of August.