Neil's goal is to get young Scots with sight loss playing
An open day event in Glasgow on Sunday, July 28th, will give people with sight loss a chance to play football and explore whether there is enough demand to set up regular games in Scotland.
The event will take place at Drumoyne Football Club in Govan from 1 to 3pm and is still open for people of all ages and all levels of sight loss.
Jordan Boyd, senior community executive with the Rangers Charity Foundation, will lead the session, explaining how specially adapted footballs that give audio-cues can help players who have sight loss.
The open day is being run in partnership with sight loss charity RNIB Scotland. One of its members, Neil Atkinson from Livingston, has actively pushed for such an event. Neil (20) has the sight condition Stargardt, which affects his central vision.
"As a life-long supporter, I wanted Rangers to be the club in Scotland to help me grow participation in visually impaired football," Neil says. "So, at the start of the year, I contacted them and found they had recently started a small club for visually impaired children through their Charity Foundation.
"Also, as a volunteer for RNIB Scotland, I was keen to use the reach of the charity to grow the interest. This is what has led to this partnership between Rangers Football Club, RNIB Scotland and the Scottish Football Association.
"The aim of this initial session is to bring together people with visual impairments who would be interested in playing football and gain feedback on the types of sessions or groups they would like to take part in, whether that is youth football, walking football groups, or even a competitive Futsal club like the one I currently play for."
'Futsal' is a variant of the game played in teams of five, with one goalkeeper and four outfield players. It takes place on a hard-course surface with a firmer ball that bounces much less than a regular football. "The game is very technique and skill-focused and played at a high tempo," explains Neil, "meaning you have a lot of touches on the ball. It is much more suited for people with a visual impairment as the ball rarely leaves the ground and long-distance sight is not hugely necessary due to the court being much smaller than a football pitch."
There is a British Partially Sighted Futsal League but all the teams all currently based in England. Neil is the only Scottish player in it after joining Blackpool-based Northwest Scorpions, the closest team, in 2016. "After travelling down to play for the first time, I realised it was exactly what I was looking for," he said.
Neil hopes the open day on Sunday will prompt more interest in Scotland. "We are really excited about the session and looking forward to meeting the participants and getting to find out what they are looking for going forward," he says.