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Disability football: what are the rules, and how to get involved

Disability football

Are you a football fan? Keen to get involved in some exercise or activity? Have you considered disability football?

If you’ve always loved cheering on your favourite team from the terraces, showing off your team’s colours on a scarf or t-shirt, but you also want to get more active, then maybe playing disability football is also for you.

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In the UK, the Football Association – more commonly known as the FA – has begun to support disability football initiatives in the last 20 years or so. In 1999, the FA established the Football Development Programme and that, combined with the launch of the English Federation of Disability Sports, saw the first real steps towards identifying and embracing disabled footballers and encouraging them to be part of the beautiful game.

Disabled people who want to get involved in playing football first need to establish which category of accessible football they want to be part of. The options include:

  • Visually impaired and blind football
  • Hearing impaired and deaf football
  • Amputee football
  • Cerebral palsy football
  • Learning disability football
  • Wheelchair / powerchair football.

Visually impaired and blind football

Players of visually impaired and blind football are classified according to the vision they have in categories B1, B2 and B3. B1 is blind, whereas B2 and B3 are for visually impaired people.

Once classified, the players play the game a little differently to conventionally football. For blind players, the guidance is that there are five players in each team and the match is played on a solid surface. Unlike with non-disabled football, there is no offside rule in blind football rules, and outfield players have to wear blindfolds and eye patches.

The football contains a lot of small ball bearings. This means it makes a noise, helping the players to identify where on the pitch it is. Finally, the goalkeeper is not normally blind but she or he cannot leave their area.

Hearing impaired and deaf football

Unlike the other types of disability football, the rules for deaf football are no different to the rules for non-disabled players. To qualify, players must have lost 55 decibels or more of their hearing, and hearing aids must be removed before a match starts.

Amputee football

In amputee football, players use two elbow crutches to get around the pitch, while usually dispensing with their prosthetic limbs. Goalkeepers for amputee football teams are normally single arm amputees.

Cerebral palsy football

For this type of disability football, players with cerebral palsy who can stand up and walk gather together in teams of seven a side and play their matches on a smaller pitch. The size of the goals is also made smaller for cerebral palsy football matches.

There is a total number of 60 minutes of match play in cerebral palsy football, divided into two halves of 30 minutes each. The offside rule is not in play in this game, and the ball can be rolled back into play as well as thrown, if preferred.

People with cerebral palsy who are wheelchair users would play wheelchair football rather than with the cerebral palsy-specific rules.

Learning disability football

For football players with a learning disability, a game with five players on each side is usually played. There are different organising bodies that oversee learning disability football and each has slightly different rules, so do check the relevant rules for the type of LD football you will be playing.

The best players will find themselves playing in competitive matches across the country and even in the Special Olympics.

Wheelchair and powerchair football

For football players who are wheelchair users, specially adapted chairs are used to engage in play. It is an indoor game, played on a pitch for five a side football, and each match has two halves of 20 minutes, totalling 40 minutes altogether.

Players can only be tackled by one player from the opposing team at a time, and there are rules about the size of the football and of the goals. Only two defending players can enter the penalty area at once.

Pan-disability football clubs

Disabled football players can group together to create teams that include individuals with a range of disabilities and impairments.

Get involved

To find teams and clubs to join to start playing disability football across Europe, check out the disability football directory website for guidance.