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Friday, 11 July 2014

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Cumbrian man to referee at Paralympics football tournament

They think it’s all over. It isn’t yet. The greatest show on earth may have packed up and left town. But another sporting spectacle is about to move in.

Scott Henry photo
Scott Henry

The Paralympics is arguably an even more inspirational event than its celebrated cousin. And Scott Henry is proud to be a part of it.

The 26-year-old, who lives at Corby Hill, near Carlisle, will be a referee at the Paralympics football tournament next month.

While millions will be watching, Scott’s thoughts might occasionally turn to someone who will be sadly absent.

His mother, Fiona Henry, a beautician from Carlisle, died of cancer just over two years ago. She was 47.

“My parents split up a long time ago. My mum was the best thing in the world,” says Scott. “She always supported me. She always looked after me.”

Scott pauses, and loses a battle against his tears. No need to apologise, of course, but he offers one anyway.

“Her death was quite sudden. The cancer was picked up late and it had spread. We were hoping she would recover. But she deteriorated. She died in May 2010.

“She never really saw what I’d achieved. I was never good at much when I was growing up. Now that I’ve developed something that I’m good at, it’s difficult that she’s not here to see it. I do miss her. It is hard. I know she’d want me to carry on.”

His mother died just a few weeks before Scott’s wedding, an event she had been looking forward to immensely.

“The wedding was helping her to keep going. She was talking about what dress she was going to wear. I said even if I had to wheel her down the aisle, I would do it. But it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Scott says his marriage to Charlene was still a great day, despite the pain. The couple have three young children: Callum, Jack and Hannah.

Scott’s refereeing career was inspired by other children. Five years ago he was a teaching assistant at James Rennie School in Carlisle, which teaches children with learning difficulties.

He took a refereeing course so he could be involved in school football matches.

James Rennie was Scott’s first job. He had always wanted to work with children, to help them. This is a role he fulfilled during much of his childhood.

“My mum ended up looking after nieces and nephews. They were at our house quite a lot. I suppose that’s when I developed my interest in looking after children.”

Scott left James Rennie to become a teaching assistant at Brampton’s Kirby Moor School, for young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Most pupils are in care. Scott says it’s a challenging but rewarding job, and one which few men do.

“It’s not seen as a male job. I don’t know why. Probably to do with the pay. Boys do need a male role model. A male influence.”

Asked if he feels an emotional attachment with the young people, Scott says: “I think it’s been like that with every child I’ve worked with. I go back to James Rennie every summer just to see the kids I’ve worked with.”

He also coaches Kirby Moor’s football team. The boys step up their behaviour in the run-up to a match, for fear of not being selected.

Such is the power of football. Scott has felt its force for most of his life. He was a Sunday league goalkeeper but realised he was unlikely to progress far in the game.

Refereeing offered another route, although Scott did not expect it to be this accessible.

He has progressed through local leagues, including Carlisle City Sunday League and Cumberland County League.

This season he will be refereeing in the Northern League, once he has completed his Paralympic duties.

His long-term ambition is to take charge of a Football League or Premier League game.

One step at a time though. One match at a time. Scott is taking nothing for granted.

“I’ve had games where people have come up and said, ‘You’ve had a good game.’ And games where they’ve said I haven’t. It shouldn’t really be about referees. The less people are talking about me the better.”

People certainly talk to him, sometimes with an accompaniment of jabbing fingers.

“When you start out, players do test you. You get a little bit of verbal abuse. I don’t tend to let it bother me. Players are just passionate about the game, whatever their level.

“Once you’ve earned their respect it’s easier. You need to be strong, physically and mentally. You’ve got to be patient and confident.”

These principles apply as much to refereeing Paralympic football as any other level of the game.

Paralympic football is for athletes with cerebral palsy. It’s 7-a-side, on a smaller pitch than 11-a-side, with two halves of half an hour.

Otherwise the game is much the same. Videos of the Paralympic version show athletes dealing with their condition remarkably well.

See the clip here for evidence: www.london2012.com/paralympics/football-7-a-side/about

Scott confirms that Paralympic footballers are much like any others, even down to the swearing.

“It’s just like refereeing any other game. I don’t see them as different to any other footballers, whatever their background or disability.

“That’s where I can transfer my job to my refereeing. It’s not where you come from – it’s what you do. You should be given the same opportunity to fulfil your goals.”

His background in working with special needs students led to Scott refereeing in the FA National Cerebral Palsy Football League.

From there he progressed to the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester last May, taking charge of the match between Brazil and Ireland.

Then came an email which delivered unexpected good news.

“Opening the email is probably the best feeling I’ve had. I was ecstatic, I was beaming. I didn’t expect it.

“ Because I got the World Cup, I thought, ‘That’s my reward.’ I didn’t realise I was going to do the Paralympics as well.

“When I first started out I didn’t expect too much from refereeing to be honest.

“To be selected to be part of an elite international competition... words can’t describe it.”

The Paralympic football tournament runs from September 1-9. All 20 matches will be played at the Olympic Park’s 15,000-capacity Riverbank Arena, which was used for hockey during the Olympics.

The tournament features eight teams, including Team GB.

Scott is one of 12 referees. He doesn’t yet know how many matches he’ll be involved with.

But being involved at all is a source of considerable pride.

“People are really excited for me. I’m just desperate to get started. It’s going to be a great experience, whether I achieve any more in my career or not.”

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