Two “awesome women” who run Middlesbrough Powerchair Football Club have reflected on life in lockdown after being named Teesside Heroes in recognition of their work supporting dozens of
Nine years after forming Middlesbrough Powerchair Football Club, Cath McNicol and Carolyn Bean remain the driving force behind a club that gives those with severe physical disabilities a chance to take part in a fast-moving sport.
Since forming officially in 2012, the club has given around 70 players a chance to take part in the sport, which sees players race around in specially adapted electric wheelchairs fitted with bumpers to ‘kick’ the ball.
Their efforts have been recognised with an award from Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation that is presented monthly to unsung community champions.
Training at Middlesbrough Sports Village and playing their home games at Thornaby Pavilion, the pair currently run three teams covering 24 players, aged seven to 44, with all but one living in the Tees region.
They also take part in the National Championship, regularly travelling to Nottingham to take on teams from London, West Bromwich, Wolverhampton, Leeds, Hull and Newcastle.
Most of the players are living with cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy – but the coronavirus lockdown has meant it’s now three months and counting since they were last able to play a game that gives them rare moments of freedom.
Sadly, the club is currently involved in a long lay-off due to the ongoing pandemic,” says Cath, the club’s player-coach and secretary, who herself has spinal muscular atrophy, a neuromuscular condition affecting use of all her muscles.
“It’s off for the foreseeable,” says Carolyn, the club’s manager and coach, who is also an international referee. “Most of the players are extremely vulnerable so they are shielding.”
Staying indoors for such a long spell is tough for everyone living is isolation but Cath says coaches and players alike are pining for the game they love.
“I was really anxious about catching the virus, especially at the start of lockdown, so we haven’t really left home for the last few months,” she explains.
“We are really missing the games and I know the players are missing it so much.
“Some of them have life-limiting conditions so lockdown really isn’t good for them, as much as it’s essential.
“It’s really tough for them. We all stay in touch but some of them can’t bring themselves to socialise over Zoom because it reminds them how much they’re missing playing and missing their team-mates.”
The pair, who live in Marton, are typically modest about winning a Teesside Hero Award that was presented to them by Philanthropic Foundation trustee Alisdair Beveridge in a surprise presentation before a derby match against local rivals Teesside at Thornaby Pavilion in the North East Regional League.
“We were gobsmacked,” admitted Middlesbrough-born Carolyn. “We had absolutely no idea what was about to happen. We do believe we make a difference for others but it’s nice to be recognised for the efforts we’ve made over the years.
“We care about every player and have built a big support network over the years.”
Adopted Teessider Cath, who was born on the south coast and remains a Brighton fan, though she now has a soft spot for the Boro after 20 years on Teesside, added: “I don’t’ see us as heroes. We just do what we do. It’s hard work but we love it because it’s so rewarding.”
Alisdair Beveridge, whose Stockton-based firm, The Build Directory, is one of more than 60 local companies who support the Foundation through regular donations, said: “Cath and Carolyn are awesome women who I have nothing but admiration for.
“They’ve run this club for nearly a decade out of sheer dedication and passion for a sport that gives Teessiders with serious physical disabilities a rare chance to play an exciting sport that’s amazing to watch and must be a thrill to play.
“Cath and Carolyn are true stars of the community.”
As part of their award, they were able to nominate a worthy cause of their choice to receive £1,000 from the Philanthropic Foundation – and asked that the donation was made to the powerchair football club.