England’s Claire Stancliffe savours Steven Gerrard support for deaf women’s team

England Deaf Women defender Claire Stancliffe says it “really hits me deep” that her “hero” Steven Gerrard has donated £5,000 to the fundraising effort aiming to get the team to September’s World Cup in Malaysia.

The campaign has been launched after the Football Association last month announced it was switching focus and funding for the national deaf women’s team from the 11-a-side format to futsal.

The overall target is £100,000, with half of that required by the end of June. A fundraising page has been set up by the Deaf Sports and Football Foundation and more than £13,000 has been raised so far, including donations of £5,000 each from ex-England and Liverpool captain Gerrard and former international team-mate and Manchester United defender Gary Neville.

Stancliffe, who grew up a Reds fan, told the PA news agency: “Steven Gerrard is my hero. When I was younger I just wanted to watch Liverpool play, and Steven Gerrard was the player I wanted to be.

“I had the same boots as him, I was central midfielder back then and I used to score goals like him. So from a very young age, I’ve watched him, I’ve wanted to be like him. I’ve always wanted to meet him – I haven’t quite managed that yet! And knowing he’s donated, it really hits me deep.

“That was quite an emotional message to receive (when she was told about Gerrard’s donation).”

Neville is involved again, having previously donated £20,000 towards getting a Great Britain side to the 2017 Deaflympics in Turkey.

Former England and Manchester United defender Gary Neville (Mike Egerton/PA)
Gary Neville has also made a £5,000 donation (Mike Egerton/PA)

Stancliffe, a world, European and Deaflympic bronze medallist, was part of that team, and said of Neville: “I just messaged him saying, ‘Is there any chance you could share our fundraising page?’

“He came back and said, ‘I’ll share it and I’ll give you £5,000 as well’. That was lovely of him. What he’s done for us, I’m really grateful for that.”

The 34-year-old said she was feeling “positive” about the £50,000 target, adding: “We have the fundraising page, that’s our main focus, but at the same time we’re working hard behind the scenes to secure a sponsorship deal with someone.”

Regarding the FA’s announcement, Stancliffe said: “Obviously as a player I’m disappointed with the decision the FA have made but I totally respect what they’ve done and for me the big focus now has to be on getting that squad to Malaysia.”

The FA said in its announcement that the change followed “consultation with existing players and staff within the England Deaf Women’s squad and the wider performance programme, alongside key conversations with stakeholders representing the deaf football community”.

It said the decision addressed “the need for a new approach for the pathway, and to ensure there are regular international opportunities for players to perform on the world stage”, adding it “mirrors the decisions made by other nations who are respected in deaf international football and futsal provision, with deaf female futsal being the preferred format of the game for an increasing number of nations”.

Catherine Gilby, the FA’s head of para performance, told PA there had been concern over the potential competitiveness of an 11-a-side England team and the depth of international competition.

Gilby added: “At the moment, it’s a grassroots challenge that we need to work with our partners in the FA to address, and we’re committed to do that. We’ve still got a role to play in making sure that, if 11-a-side is what some female deaf players want to play, there’s an avenue to do that.”

Following the FA’s April announcement, Great Britain Deaf Football said it was now supporting England Deaf Women to send a team to Malaysia, adding: “(A) recent deaf women 11-a-side survey that GBDF conducted indicated that there was plenty of interest and commitment to compete at the 2023 World Cup, 2024 Euros and Deaflympics in 2025 where possible.”

GBDF on Sunday announced Lauren Asquith, who formerly worked in the FA’s para football set-up, as head coach of the team for the World Cup and Euros.