An ex-Paralympic athlete from Markinch is set to represent Scotland in its first foray into amputee football.
Iain Matthew also played a key role in helping to secure funding to enable the Scots squad to attend the tournament, in Breda, Holland, this Friday (June 23).
Amputee Football Association Scotland (AFAS), the charity responsible for developing and promoting the sport in Scotland, is backing the 12-man team as it competes in a tri-nation competition against national teams from Holland and Germany, which forms part of a larger annual para-sport festival in the city.
It will be the first time Scotland has been represented in amputee football, marking a significant advance in disability sport here. And, with some of football’s biggest names backing it, the team looks set to make its mark on the European stage.
The trip, however, was only made possible when the Muir Group stepped up to offer financial assistance on hearing of the charity’s appeal for funding through Iain, who is one of its employees.
The 41-year-old began playing amputee football with Partick Thistle Amputees back in March this year. However, when he told the Fife firm of the opportunity to play abroad and the charity’s plight for funding, the big-hearted housebuilder stepped in as sponsor to ensure a Scotland squad would make its European debut.
Representing his country is actually nothing new for Iain – he was selected for the Great Britain Paralympic swimming team in Barcelona in 1992 as a specialist breast stroke swimmer for the relay.
His spectacular career saw him qualify for the individual 100m breast stroke final, where he astounded spectators by bursting through from an outside lane to win a gold medal for Great Britain, before scooping silver at the Atlanta games in 1996.
He is a former world record holder in 100 and 200 metre breast stroke and was one of the first athletes with a disability to compete with the Scotland’s able-bodied swimming team at the Commonwealth Games in 1994.
Iain – dad to Eve (7) and step-dad to Conor (12) and Kaylah (16) – has worked at Muir Group since June last year. He said: “I’ve played mainstream football for most of my life but had to stop due to health issues in the past.
“Amputee football has given me a new lease of life. I’m fit again and have made a great group of friends.
“The opportunity to travel to the Netherlands seemed like a dream and I’m proud that my own employer stepped up to make sure that dream could come true for the squad.
“I’ve seen the standard of our European counterparts so I’m a little nervous but I’m looking forward to the experience of being part of competitive sport again.”
Amputee Football Association Scotland (AFAS) was set up in October last year, with the aim of developing amputee football teams at SPFL clubs across Scotland.
The charity has witnessed a surge in demand for the sport and there is now a well-established junior and senior squad enjoying fortnightly training sessions with Partick Thistle Community Trust.
The team currently competes in the English Amputee Football League against amputee teams including Manchester City, Arsenal, Brighton, Portsmouth and Everton.
The charity took the sport to Dundee United in May and, having been given the nod from Heart of Midlothian owner Anne Budge, training sessions are due to commence soon at Tynecastle in Edinburgh.
AFAS will host amputee football taster sessions throughout the next 18 months as part of its national #LegOffGameOn Roadshow.
AFAS, which is endorsed by the Scottish Football Association (SFA), has enjoyed the backing of Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, and Partick Thistle boss Alan Archibald, both of whom have championed the work of the charity in recent months.
Edinburgh-based O’Neill visited Partick Thistle Amputees as guest coach last year and has been an ambassador for the growth of the sport in Scotland.
Ashley Reid (36), founder of Amputee Football Association Scotland, said: “Amputee football is a relatively new discipline in Scotland so to see our player numbers grow so rapidly in such a short time is testament to the demand that exists for the sport.
“Our aim is simply to provide the opportunity for anyone with an amputation or limb difference to play football on a level playing field in a fun and safe environment.
“To see Scotland in a position whereby we can send a squad to compete on a European level is of huge significance – not only for the players but for disability sport in Scotland generally.
“As a very young charity, our funds are minimal and this trip would not have been possible without the generosity of Muir Group.”
Amputee Football Association Scotland is governed by the European Amputee Football Federation (EAFF).
The charity is completely self-funded by public donations and receives no funding from Scotland’s football governing bodies.
Anyone wishing to support AFAS to send the team to Holland can do so by donating at www.amputeefootballscotland.co.uk