Chelsea superfan called Chelsea tells how playing in a blind football match has “unlocked the game” for her son Stamford
The mother of a visually-impaired 11-year-old Chelsea superfan, who is called after the club and named her son after its stadium, has said playing in a blind match has “unlocked the game” for her boy.
Football fanatic Chelsea Bottomley, 32, an administrator from Paddington, London, said she hopes more blind football games will be made available for her son Stamford after he took part in his match hosted by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in August this year.
Named after the London club’s Stamford Bridge stadium, Stamford has cerebral palsy which, according to the NHS, affects movement and coordination – and impaired vision is common for children with the lifelong condition.
A keen footballer, Stamford struggles to play the sport at school and so his mum said it was special to see her son take part in an adapted version of the game.
Chelsea, who was named after her mum’s favourite team, said: “Stamford was born with cerebral palsy and visual impairment and, despite being a huge football fan, he found it tough to play at school.
“With a bell inside the ball for players to know where it is and keywords being shouted out throughout the match, blind football has unlocked the game for Stamford and given him access to join in.”
Chelsea says she became aware of Stamford’s eyesight problems when he was an infant.
She said: “When he was newborn, the doctors told me he has something called nystagmus which meant that his eyes move side to side, and that he also had a squint.
“But as he got a bit older and was a toddler, I would notice that if he was on his play mat and I walked quietly into the room, he wouldn’t even see me until I was almost right in front of him.”
She added: “There were other things I noticed too, like how he preferred black and white picture books over colourful ones.”
At 10 months old, Stamford was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
“It’s not so much his eyes that are the problem but how his brain communicates with his eyes,” Chelsea said.
She added: “He struggles with things like depth perception and facial recognition.
“He also had a bleed on the brain at the time of birth, which knocked him back for a few years.
“He was late hitting his milestones and was about three and a half years old before Stamford started to say words but luckily, through lots of work, physiotherapy and speech and language training, he’s since caught up.”
Chelsea said Stamford’s 50 per cent visual field has not held him back.
“He’s just an awesome kid – he’s very confident and has a very good sense of humour,” she said.
“He’s so positive and I’ve never wanted his confidence to be knocked.”
She added: “He’s such a character and the teachers at school all love him. And he loves football very much.”
It was Stamford’s love for the game that led Chelsea to be approached by Guide Dogs who were running a blind football masterclass.
She said: “We love football in our family, it’s like a second religion. We’re born Catholic but we’re also born into Chelsea.”
She added: “My mum had named me Chelsea after the club and, when my boy was born, my mum was such a strong support for me that I named him Stamford for her.
“And they have a wonderful relationship, Stamford is very close to his nana.
“Stamford’s always had a season ticket and always gone to matches but he struggled with playing football at school.”
She added: “Kids are very competitive and he would always be picked last for the teams and that was tough for him.
“He was desperate to take part, but he wouldn’t always be able to see the ball or see where he was aiming it.
“The masterclass was an incredible experience for him.”
Adapting football for blind children, Stamford took part in games where players were blindfolded and the ball had a bell inside it so they could hear where it was.
“The blindfold helped to eliminate any distraction due to light and, whenever a player got the ball, they would shout out a keyword and the rest of the team would repeat it so that they knew where everyone was,” said Chelsea.
“It was very special to see Stamford being able to fully take part in a sport he adores.”
Now Chelsea hopes Stamford will be able to take part in more blind football matches.
“It’s difficult because there are currently only three blind teams in the National Blind Football League so I hope that by raising awareness more things will become available,” she said.
“It would be great to see schools hold blind football games to as it will be a great experience for sighted children just as it will be for blind children.”
Stamford’s blind football masterclass was organised by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association – to discover how the charity helps children with sight loss go to: www.guidedogs.org.uk/getting-support/help-for-children-and-families/