While most football fans are aware of variations on the beautiful game, such as futsal or beach football, one of the most recent to find feet in this sporting nation is beginning to make waves within the Western suburbs of Sydney. They call it Powerchair Football; a competitive team sport for the physically disabled which incorporates electrically powered wheelchairs into the round-ball game.
When you first watch a game of Powerchair football you will notice that there are some key differences between it and the likes of futsal; expectantly so, as it is played in wheelchairs. Andy Waite, captain of the Western Sydney Wanderers team and the Australian Poweroos, describes some of the rules, “Powerchair Football is played on an indoor basketball sized court. Each team consists of 4 players… each player has a foot guard, or as some call it, a cage on the front of the chair that is used to hit the ball, the ball is larger than a regular football and is 33cm in diameter.
To keep the game flowing there is a rule called the “2 on 1”, which means that you cannot have two teammates [excluding the goalkeeper] and an opponent within 3 metres of the ball, where all 3 players are involved in the play, this will result in a free kick.”
The sport has existed in other parts of the world for decades, first played in France during the 1970s. It spread quickly around Europe before taking off in Canada, America and parts of Asia. An international governing body, similar to FIFA, was formed in 2006 – referred to as the FIPFA.
However, as Waite describes, “it’s still a new sport in Australia. It first started [here] 3 years ago, in 2010.”
While the rest of the now Wanderers team jumped on board immediately, Waite lived up to his name in starting his Powerchair career, “I was hesitant of joining this new sport as I was selected to represent Australia in Electric Wheelchair Hockey, so I decided not to take up Powerchair Football and just concentrate on Hockey until after the 2010 EWH World Championships.
In 2011 I took up Powerchair Football and I haven’t looked back since, going on to win the Leading Goal Scorer in the 2011 and 2012 seasons and being selected to represent Australia at the 2011 World Cup in Paris.”
Like many in the bustling population of Western Sydney, Waite and his teammates were delighted by the introduction of the Wanderers into the A-League.
“It basically started with Peter, Ben and I; we were all football fans but we never had a local A-League team to support. When the Wanderers were announced, we decided to all support them… and with games being at Parramatta Stadium, close by to us, that just helped us decide that they would be our team.”
The group of five, Peter, Ben, Alex, Jacob and Andy played as the Western Sydney Wanderers PFC for a period of time, competing in their first game of the season in late April; however registered affiliation with the A-League club became official on the 8th of June where Waite and his teammates became certified Wanderers.
“We became Wanderers when we went to the Public Launch and met Lyall Gorman and other people involved with the Wanderers. This was all before we had decided to join up and play as a Wanderers team the following season.
So when we started playing as the Wanderers we were already known to them and we sent them emails asking for support. We then were asked in for a meeting to discuss what support we were after for not only this season but for the future as well. To be met with open arms by the whole club was something we never expected and something we’re all ecstatic about. It’s a first for any team in Powerchair Football, not just in Australia to have this sort of association with a club.”
The team plays in the PFA NSW Western Sydney division, also competed in by the West Sydney Snipers, Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets. The Wanderers currently sit second, below an undefeated Snipers outfit and a point ahead of the Mariners.
A highlight of this season’s competition has been the amazing support shown from the renowned Red and Black Bloc. A large group of dedicated fans have shown up regularly to the Wanderers PFC’s fixtures since their “chanting debut” on 27 April in a 3-1 loss to the Newcastle Jets where Andy scored his first goal for the club. Those organising the RBB’s appearance made all attempts to keep their plans a pleasant surprise for the team.
Waite describes the two key effects that the RBB have had on the Powerchair team, “The Red and Black Bloc have helped us out financially and with motivation. They’ve helped cover the costs of our training sessions and we now know that we need to step up a level on the court to show that we’re proud to have them there and proud to be a part the Wanderers Family.”
Early in May the RBB made a $1000 donation to the Wanderers PFC which was used to finance new jerseys and equipment.
“For them to come and support us like this has been phenomenal. Before the RBB, our crowds consisted of mainly just family and friends. To have the amount of supporters they have brought is amazing. They have shown that an Electric Wheelchair sport can be a good spectator sport.
In spite of the bad press these “hooligans” have received at times, they have shown themselves to be a family friendly group that shouldn’t be judged by the actions of a few trouble makers that have been at A-League matches.”
Powerchair football is played on an international scale, much like the traditional form of the sport. The first World Cup was played in Tokyo, Japan in 2007 – won by the United States against France in a penalty shootout. The US backed this up with a 3-0 victory against England in 2011, becoming the first team from any sport in America to win back-to-back World championships.
Andy Waite was recently honoured with captaincy of the Australian national team, the Poweroos, in the Asia Pacific Ocean Powerchair Football Cup, “like most sports-people it has always been a dream to not only represent but also captain my country. A few years back I never thought I would ever be considered for captaincy. I didn’t think I had what was required; I didn’t quite have the maturity and I was far too much of a loud mouth attention seeker for such a role.”
Though requiring much tireless work and determination, Waite rose quickly through the Powerchair football structure in Australia, “when I started in Powerchair Football I was entrusted with the captaincy of one of the teams. It was tough because I was completely out of my comfort zone, still trying to learn this new game.
I worked hard on developing my skills as I was determined not to let my teammates down and I believe the experience helped me become a leader that the team required and also a better team player.”
The Wanderers PFC star’s first ‘big break’ came in 2012, “I was selected to play for NSW in the National Championship again. It never crossed my mind that I could be selected as the NSW captain. The night before the competition the NSW coach brought us together for a team meeting and also to present the team kit to the players. He then read out the team captain. It was a bit of a surprise, but he called out Andy Waite as captain and it was amazing, I didn’t quite believe it but it was the great honour and one that I will never forget.”
Waite led the NSW team to great success at the National Championships, which they won for the second year in succession; conceding only one goal in the entirety of the competition.
“A few days later they announced the team for the Asia Pacific Ocean Powerchair Football Cup and I was lucky to get selected to wear the green and gold. To again be selected is an amazing feeling in itself but to then be selected as the Australian Captain was a tremendous honour and a dream come true.”
The team had a very impressive competition, though were eventually defeated 2-1 in the finals by Japan during overtime. Nevertheless, Waite describes the team’s performance as having “showed that Australia is ready to really put their mark on the world stage.”
“The fact that I made captain for the APO Cup, doesn’t guarantee that I’ll be captain or even selected for the next Australian Team, so this is something that I will have to continue to work on, but I will definitely not be taking any of these accolades for granted.”
The Wanderers PFC are well into the final half of their season and will be hoping to topple their Western Sydney rivals (the Snipers) from the top of the ladder in a debut season similar to that of the ‘outdoor’ team’s. They take on the Snipers twice before the season ends, and so have plenty of opportunity.
I asked Andy when they were playing next and how those interested could come down and support the team, “Our next game is on Saturday 13 July at 2pm, Kevin Betts Stadium, Mount Druitt where we take on the Central Coast Mariners for the Gorman – Turnbull Trophy… and don’t worry if it’s raining, it’s played indoors.”
Here is a list of the team’s upcoming fixtures:
- Round 10 -Saturday 20 July versus West Sydney Snipers
- Round 11 -Saturday 27 July versus Newcastle Jets
- Round 12 -Saturday 10 August versus Central Coast Mariners
- Round 13 -Saturday 17 August versus West Sydney Snipers
- Round 14 -Saturday 24 August versus Newcastle Jets
- Round 15 -Saturday 31 August versus Central Coast Mariners
All games start at 2pm and are played at Kevin Betts Stadium, Mt Druitt.
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Follow Andy on Twitter: @gremlin96
Amazing photography thanks to: http://www.efcsomedia.net/
Find out more about the Wanderers PFC: https://www.facebook.com/wswpfc?fref=tsGoogle+