A Newcastle United supporter has become the first blind person in the country to be recognised as a qualified assistant coach by the Football Association.
Paul Matheson, who lost his sight as a result of optic nerve damage caused by glaucoma ten years ago, has achieved the accolade after taking part in special visually impaired coaching sessions with the Newcastle United Foundation.
With the added support of Henshaws Society for Blind People, the 47 year-old now has a formal FA coaching badge to his name, while training with Foundation coaches has helped develop his spatial awareness, communication and social skills.
Paul, who has been a Newcastle United fan since the age of two and attended his first Magpies game at the age of five, said: “When I lost my sight, I just stopped playing football. You just don’t imagine that’s something you can still do and I felt as though I’d lost a huge part of my enjoyment of life."
“When I first started to play my coordination wasn’t great. I was quite hesitant and would stand around waiting for the ball to come to me. It took a few weeks to adapt but then my confidence increased and I was soon able to run after the ball. Some people say football is only a game, but it’s much more than that to me.”
The football fanatic, who started on the course in 2013, now volunteers on Wednesday evenings to pass on his knowledge to children’s team and aims to move on to full-time coaching. Paul also represented Newcastle United in a four team International football tournament last November in Belfast.
Philippa Taylor, community services development officer at Henshaws, said: “I have been totally blown away by Paul’s football skills, his mobility and independence. He never ceases to amaze me in what he can do.”
Paul added: “The visually impaired sessions have opened up doors for me and given me football back; I couldn’t be without it now. It’s such a huge part of who I am and I’ve realised that doesn’t have to change just because I lost my sight.”