HEREFORD has hosted the most prestigious blind football competitions over the last decade which were hailed as a success.
Ten years ago the IBSA World Blind Football Championship took place at the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC).
The competition was such a success that five years later the IBSA Blind Football European Championships were also held in the city.
It was the first time the World Championship had been held in the UK and tickets for the last three days were sold out well in advance.
Brazil were the outstanding team in the 10-nation competition and beat Spain 2-0 in the final to lift the IBSA World Blind Championship for the third time.
BBC Hereford & Worcester’s Keith Hall was invited to commentate on the event, which was broadcast to a global audience, but this was something of a challenge as he recalls.
He said: “I was delighted to play my part in the World Cup 2010 in Hereford, but had to quickly understand the rules and adapt my commentary style, as whilst mainstream football is normally played in a cacophony of noise – the silence in the blind version of the game is striking.
“Etiquette dictated that the fans remained quiet unless the ball went out of play because the players needed to be able to hear each other and, crucially, the ball. I quickly found out that it contained ball bearings which made a rattling noise that helped the players locate it.
“Unsurprisingly, the style of play was different as passes covered a shorter distance and the players tried not to let the ball stray more than a few inches from their feet, making nimble footwork and a command of the ball vital.
“It was a shock to hear the players shouting out ‘voy!’ – meaning ‘I’m here’ – as they approached to make a tackle, but the amount of dribbling and close control was astounding. I’ll never forget the way many of the Chinese players weaved their way forward with the ball seemingly glued to their feet. Mesmeric.
“Every country had strengths and weaknesses, but each team seemed to have a talisman, and the England captain David Clarke was often in the thick of the action. His rapid feet moved the ball between his feet before unleashing a series of powerful, accurate shots.
“I was naturally disappointed that England weren’t able to lift the World Cup finishing fourth, but maybe Brazil were destined to win.
“I came away from the event understanding that visually impaired players aren’t interested in talking about their disability. They just want to get on with the game.
“I thoroughly enjoyed some outstanding football, and consider the blindness was just a secondary factor.”
Five years later in the European Championship, Turkey, who England beat 2-1 in their final group match, won the tournament after a solitary Kahraman Kurbetoglu goal was enough to beat Russia in the final.
England bowed out of the tournament at the semi-final stage after losing a penalty shootout to Russia at then lost another shoot-out the following day against Spain in the third/fourth place play-off.