Disability football in England has received a major boost following the announcement of Every Player Counts, a new £1.1m project from the EFL Trust that aims to attract almost 10,000 new participants into the sport.
Supporting the EFL Trust's aim to increase sports participation for all, the landmark project has been made possible thanks to funding from the Wembley National Stadium Trust (WNST). The donation represents WNST's largest single donation to date and its first England-wide grants programme.
The Every Player Counts programme will cover a wide range of disabilities with the simple aim of getting more people involved in sport and 25 EFL clubs will be involved in running programmes that are tailored to the specific needs of their local community. Although individual programmes will differ from club to club, the emphasis will always be on increasing participation, improving health and championing the social benefits of taking part in football.
Former England and Leeds United defender Danny Mills and Paralympian Jack Rutter were present at Wembley Stadium to watch some of the programme's newest participants in action.
The 25 EFL Club Trusts will be delivering activity covering a wide range of disability programmes including wheelchair football, football for visual impairment, learning difficulties, amputees and autism, giving many disabled people access to football for the first time.
Sitting at the heart of their communities, EFL clubs and their trusts are ideally placed to develop a strong understanding of what is needed to deliver projects that make a real difference to local people.
EFL Clubs cover the length and breadth of the country, from Plymouth to Carlisle and from Southend to Shrewsbury. They are located in a mixture of built-up metropolitan boroughs and more rural locations - this variety allows Every Player Counts to reach a diverse range of people from many different backgrounds.
In the first year alone, the project aims to engage 3,000 new participants across the country, creating 31 new teams and up-skilling 130 coaches.
Mike Evans, EFL Trust Director of Operations, said: "The 72 EFL Community Trusts do lots of great work to get people involved in sport regardless of their background or abilities. The new partnership with Wembley National Stadium Trust will enable us to widen the reach of our network even further and use the power of football to make a real difference to people's lives."
Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Penny Mordaunt, said: "This is a fantastic project that recognises the power of sport to improve health and build a person's capacity and confidence.
"I've heard first-hand about the vital role sport has played in helping disabled people move into employment and the transformation this has made to their lives. Every Player Counts is a great example for sports clubs, educators and businesses everywhere to enable disabled people to reach their full potential."
Stewart Goshawk, Wembley National Stadium Trust CEO, added: "WNST is delighted to be able to support so many clubs up and down the country to increase their disability football delivery. The aim across all of our funding programmes is to get more people playing sport.
"We know the power that football has to inspire people to get active - getting fit and healthy in the process. However, we also understand that unfortunately disabled people continue to face barriers to participation. The work we are funding will make football more accessible for people with a physical or sensory impairment, or who have a learning disability or enduring mental ill health. All with the added kudos of being delivered by their local professional EFL club."
Every Player Counts forms a key part of the EFL's accessibility strategy formed in partnership with Level Playing Field.
As part of its ongoing commitment to accessibility, the EFL has also launched its new accessibility supporter guide, a 120 page handbook for EFL clubs on how to improve the whole matchday experience for disabled supporters from making ticket purchases right through to leaving the ground.