Welsh football: Barry Town pan disability team open up on inclusion and 'being a family'

The team is made up of around 25-30 members and includes those who are disabled, neurodivergent, visually impaired and deaf or hard of hearing.

The debate about whether football or rugby is Wales’ national sport shows no sign of concluding any time soon.

For one group in Barry, it is the simplicity of football that is providing them with a valuable lifeline and an opportunity to be themselves.

Barry Town United FC’s pan disability team was formed under the name Vale Reds a decade ago. 

It’s made up of around 25-30 members and includes those who are disabled, neurodivergent, visually impaired and deaf or hard of hearing.

Chloe was born with a condition called optic nerve hypoplasia.

Chloe McBratney, who coaches the team, joined the club during its formative days.

“We cover a wide range of disabilities, which can sometimes be challenging in itself,” she told ITV Cymru Wales’ Welsh Lives programme.

“Within the pan disability setup we have different categories so as coaches we look at a player’s ability [decide which group] suits them more. 

“Our team is definitely made up of a lot of characters and that makes a training session really interesting.”

Mark has been with the club since the very beginning.

Mark Eveley is one of the only players to have been at the club since it was established. 

Diagnosed with asthma and epilepsy as a child, Mark is now the club’s goalkeeper.

He said: “The first 18 months of my life I was back and forth to the hospital. 

“I was born premature and I had heart problems. The doctors said I probably won’t last long, but I’m still living close to forty years later and I’m still proving all the doctors wrong.”

Mark, who is cared for by his mother, credits the club with giving him a valued voice in a community he cares passionately about.

He said: “I first started up front and then I was going back and forth to midfield and defence.

“When I first started I wasn't that vocal with team members, because I didn’t know them and I didn’t know the coaches.

“Now everyone tells me they can’t make me be quiet at all.”

Mark also helps around the club, regularly supporting the senior Men’s side on matchdays in the Cymru Premier League, a team he has supported for most of his life.

For those newer members of the club, Barry Town are also providing a fraternity they have not found elsewhere.

JJ has played at the heart of Barry's defence since he joined in 2022.

Defender Joshua Jones has played football since he was a child.

Diagnosed as deaf as a child, he regularly played in mainstream teams as both a teenager and adult.

However, for JJ, as he’s known to his teammates, the pan disability side provides him with unique opportunities.

“I really enjoy it, everyone is really helpful around the club,” he told Welsh Lives.

“[I’ve struggled with my disability] since I was 11 years old. I lip read, or try to lip read the best I can, but I do struggle.

“Coming back into this environment has helped me adapt to my disability which I struggle with during the 11-a-side games. 

“This club is like a second family, which I'm really proud to be in.”

Barry play matches against other pan disabled sides, including Cardiff City.

For head coach Chloe, football is uniquely placed to provide support and inclusion for people who may otherwise feel left out. 

“Football is the most accessible sport that is out there”, she continued. “It’s universal, everybody knows what football is. 

“It’s played within the women's game, the men’s game, within disability as well; there’s always some sort of football. 

“There’s pressure on people to fit into society and I feel like football is that constant sport that it doesn’t matter, you can just be who you are.

“[You can] forget everything for 90 minutes and play that game that everybody loves and enjoys.”

You can watch Barry Town United FC’s Pan Disability team online .

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