Kicking disability to the kerb

07 December 2018 | North West England

The Men Aces Image

Meet the inspirational footballers who don’t let their learning difficulties hold them back.

Move over Jamie Vardy and Harry Keane. In Skelmersdale, West Lancashire, the biggest football idols are the members of the Skem Men-Aces footie club.

But this is a football club with a difference. It’s made up of around 60 men, aged 16 to 65, but each and every one has a learning disability.

“They can’t walk down the street with a member of the public patting them on the back or cheering them on,” laughs founding member of the club, Carl Eaton.

“To feel part of a team, well, it just gives all of these lads a newfound confidence, a sense of belonging,” says community-minded Carl, 56, who runs the club with his wife, Mim, 54.

Carl, himself a right leg amputee and who has spina bifida, had the idea put into his head by his younger brother, Harry.

“He’s a year younger than me and was born with severe learning disabilities,” says Carl. “We’ve both always loved football, and I’m a massive Liverpool FC fan.”

But it wasn’t until 2009, when Carl was visiting Harry, that his brother put the idea into his head.

“He said to me that he’d love to get a football team going,” says Carl. “Joining a regular team had never been a possibility, but what he said made me wonder how many other people were missing out on being part of something like this, because they had learning disabilities. So I went home to Mim and asked how she would feel about setting up a team. She groaned at first, thinking, ‘not more football,’ but when I explained what I meant, she was behind it 100%.”

The couple, who have two children, Carl, 25, and Samantha, 22, started putting some feelers out around the local community, set up a first meeting. “We didn’t have high hopes, had just a football and two coats as goalposts, but my god, that first night, we were overwhelmed with how many people turned up.”

And now, almost 10 years on, the club is booming. They play matches every couple of weeks, have a minibus, smart kit.

Last year, Carl and Mim completed the Manchester Marathon, raising £11,000 for the club. “From that, we took a group of the lads to an activity centre for a few days, where they did archery, rock climbing and abseiling, it was wonderful to watch,’” says Carl. He’s always trying to think of ways to improve the club and raise funds for the members. “They call me the professional scrounger,” he laughs.

Men-Aces have won The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, but Carl says the reaction of the players is the best reward.

“It’s lovely to be recognised, but the most amazing thing is seeing the smile on the lads’ faces when they’re on that pitch, they feel part of a team, like they belong,” Carl says. “It gives them optimism, hope, a chance to be just one of the lads.”

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