Graeme Davies coaching children football

Parkinsons Awareness Month: Graeme Davies

Marketing & Communications
April was Parkinson's Awareness month and as such we spoke to Norfolk FA Disability Ambassador, Graeme Davies.

Parkinson's Awareness Month: Graeme Davies

As April comes to an end, so does a month of awareness around Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition. This means that it causes problems in the brain and gets worse over time.

We spoke with Norfolk FA Disability Football Ambassador, Graeme Davies, about the impact of Parkinson's on his life and his involvement in grassroots football in our County. Graeme was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease over a decade ago.              

How long have you been involved in football and in what capacity?

"I can’t remember a time whereas a fan, player or coach that I wasn’t totally obsessed with the game. I have been coaching for about 30 years now, and for the past decade I have had the privilege of being part of the Disabilities team at Norwich City CSF. And coming out of that is my (relatively) new role as a Football Disability Ambassador for Norfolk FA, which I am really excited about."

What is your favourite memory in football?

"This is going to sound glib, but football has given me a lifetime of favourite memories, and being asked to pick just one is like being asked to pick a favourite child! The past 10 years in particular have given me some incredible moments, but I intend to keep having them for a bit longer. However, I will say that the lifelong friendships I have had through football ultimately matter more than any of the individual experiences I have had."

When were you diagnosed with Parkinson's and how has this impacted your life?

"Strangely, I was first diagnosed with my illness in the same week I started at CSF, so just over a decade ago. My diagnosis is officially Early Onset Parkinson's, as it usually isn’t diagnosed until much later in life. I see a mid-40’s diagnosis as a positive, in that I have a healthier starting point than many others, and hopefully (with all the on-going neurological research at present) an increased chance of there being a cure within my lifetime. Physically, the main impact is muscle stiffness in the right side of my body and a resulting slowness of movement. My fine motor skills are affected, so I’m not the “go to” coach when a young player needs their laces tied up anymore."

How has Parkinson's impacted your involvement in football?

"It’s made me appreciate the unique opportunities the game has given me, and still does. On a practical level, my ability to make coaching points via demos may lack the quality I could have shown previously, and I can’t really use whiteboards as a coaching aid as my hand-writing is appalling but that’s about the only negatives. I guess knowing that I might not be able to do this forever makes me more determined to do as much as I can whilst I can. Hopefully, as a disabilities coach, it also makes me more empathetic with the people I am involved with."

April was Parkinson's Awareness Month, but how important is it to promote the impact of Parkinson's year round?

"As a bigger picture thing, I think it is important to educate people about how attitudes and assumptions to disabilities (in general) impact lives. I think sometimes there is a tendency to focus on what people can’t do rather on what they can, and I see the FA’s emphasis on using a social model rather than a medical model as a really positive step forwards. I am naturally shy, and don’t like publicity, but I think it’s important not to always leave these conversations to others.

"My day job is actually in the finance team at our local mental health Trust, and I have ended up making presentations on the impact of Parkinson’s to national and local NHS conferences. These seem to have been well received, and challenged a few pre-conceptions along the way, so I do see the importance.

"However, it is also important to stress that in no way whatsoever do I consider myself a spokesperson on the subject, and I do understand that my condition is still relatively mild, and that others will have different experiences, challenges and viewpoints. That’s why it’s important to get as many other voices heard as possible, and to achieve this needs things like awareness days, etc..."

Do you find football to be an inclusive space for you, and is there anything that can be done to improve this?

"My personal position is unusual, in that I work in Disability Football for both the FA and a professional football club, so for me it’s very inclusive. But I am deeply aware that for many thousands of others, sadly this isn’t the case. The statistics on disability participation tell us that we have much to do both as a sport and a society. Developing the appropriate opportunities, whether in mainstream football, pan-disability football or impairment-specific football is something that I feel passionate about. It’s why I became a Disability Ambassador, and I hope that both locally and nationally we can bring about the changes so that in the near future I can honestly say the game I love is truly inclusive. If we are looking at a situation where there are full kids and adult playing pathways available, or we have more opportunity for participation in other roles within the game (including coaching), then we will have made a difference."

How important is the visibility of disabilities in grassroots football as well as the professional game?

"It’s vital. The ability to participate, to feel included, the lifelong relationships, the health benefits. All of the things that football (or sport) can bring to anyone should be the same for everyone, and disability shouldn’t ever be a barrier to that. But people often only take the first step when they see role models they can identify with or they see a pathway open to them. And maybe football is a little behind the curve in this regard.

"The uptake in female participation in football in recent years shows us exactly what can be done. But that all truly sparked into life when games were televised, so things like TNT’s coverage of The Disability Cup in June can play a huge role in changing mindsets. Similarly, the impact of coverage of the Paralympics is another prime example of how we need that visibility to help progress the game.

"Likewise, I see what the community programmes at pro clubs are delivering. There’s some great work being done nationally by loads of clubs, and things like the recent CSF Takeover Day at the Norwich vs Sunderland game can make a genuine difference.

"But what we really need now is to focus on the grassroots development, which is going under the radar a bit. There’s lots of good people doing lots of good things, and we need to be pro-active in getting them recognised too."

Do you have anything else you would like to mention regarding this topic?

"Just a message to anyone who looks at their local provision (especially in Norfolk) and thinks that there isn’t any opportunities. Please contact your grassroots clubs or Norfolk FA, and help us set things in motion to be that change. If clubs see there is a real demand, they will react. If we all work together, we can be that difference."

To find out more about Disability Football, please click here.

To find out more about Parkinson's disease, please click here.