Back On Track With The 1066 Specials

By Nick Pelling

As we all know, things have been opening up again. But, as the noise of supposed normality kicks in, it’s worth shining a light on a club that deserves to be much better known: The 1066 Specials. They breathe real passion and genuine meaning into the idea that ‘football is for all’, offering exercise, skills and match experience to people with all manner of differing needs, ranging from emotional and cognitive issues through to the physical. 

1066 Specials in match with Hollington

One of the great things about the Specials is that they provide a really high quality of football infrastructure: the coaches have FA qualifications and also the necessary safeguarding training; the facilities at the Bexhill College ground are excellent; even the corner flags flutter. 

However, as coach Duncan Nolan says, “the most important thing about The Specials is that it gives young people a sense of self-confidence.” Developing such a valuable quality obviously goes far beyond the confines of a football pitch. Indeed, it is worth pausing to reflect that people with disability have frequently not had a good experience of sport at school; on the contrary, many have painful memories. The Specials reverse that and start building social skills, a sense of self-worth and, critically, new friendships. In short, they give young people a big boost. It might be thought that, with so many different conditions and needs, coaching would be problematic but, as Nolan says, “it just seems to work, and has done since 2003”.

1066 Specials team

It should not, however, be assumed that the club is some form of therapy group with footballs thrown in. The Specials exist within the structure of the Sussex FA Disability League, indeed the club was a founder member of that League in 2014. Furthermore, they have won the League and Cup competitions so many times that they are one of its elite clubs. Essentially, although the club stresses that first and foremost football must be fun, it also takes the football very seriously. Parents tend to see quickly the value in this dual approach.

In many ways the Specials are one big family. The best illustration of this recently was a memorial game between the 1066 players and Hollington FC, organised to commemorate the club devotee Roger Lee who sadly passed away during the Covid crisis. He was a tremendous supporter of the club – and a shrewd goalkeeping coach. His commitment was absolutely typical of the way the Specials seem to thrive. 

The Specials won the game 5-4 on penalties, and in the process £241.00 was raised for the club in an event Nolan was moved to describe as “unimaginably brilliant”.  At the end of the game, Roger’s widow, Val, was touchingly presented with a beautifully framed set of goalkeeper’s gloves and shirt by Hollington manager Scott Price and his players.    

Although the football club depends entirely upon unpaid volunteers, it must be recognised that the driving force behind the founding of the Specials was a St Leonards businessman, Harold Lawrence. He invested not just time but also his own money in creating the club, and was pivotal in developing the FA Disability League, for which he helped to design the logo. He subsequently endured a debilitating stroke, but even at that low point he found a way to create positivity with his book about it, entitled At A Stroke.

The club was recognised in 2013 when it received the Queens Award for Voluntary Service, the equivalent of an MBE for an organisation. As if this was not glamour enough, Sir Paul McCartney has become a patron and the satirical surrealist Bexhillian, Eddie Izzard, donated £5,000.

Next season will start in September with training on three Saturday mornings every month at Bexhill College, staffed by the volunteers who are prepared to play to the whistle in all weathers. However one looks at this club, it is surely pretty close to special.

For more details, see the club website: 1066specials.org.uk and facebook.com/1066specialsFc or phone 07522 576546.


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