GOALBALL: Holloway wins gold with England in inaugural home nations tournament

Rugby's Paul Holloway on the right of the picture with the victorious England team
Rugby's Paul Holloway on the right of the picture with the victorious England team

New event showcases Paralympic team sport for visually impaired athletes

Rugby’s Paul Holloway, helped guide England to victory in the inaugural Goalball UK Home Nations tournament.

Taking place at York St John University’s Haxby Road sports park, male and female players from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland descended to the historic walled city in North Yorkshire to compete. Over the two days, the teams battled it out to determine who became the first Home Nations champions.

This new event showcased the Paralympic team sport for visually impaired athletes which is played using an audible ball and tactile markings on the floor. All players also wear eyeshades to ensure an even playing field.

Paul was a key player for England as they managed to win five of their six games to seal the victory and claim the bragging rights. The tournament concluded with a tense 5-3 victory over Northern Ireland.

His England team colleagues were Karina Lang (Winchester), Tracy Compton (London Elephants), Curtis Vasey, Taylor Vasey (both Scarborough Panthers along with coach Brian Vasey) and Emma Evans (Fenn Tigers).

Paul was inspired by watching the 2012 Paralympics and joined the then newly formed Birmingham Barbarians where he has been developing his skills ever since. They are currently third in the South West region of the national league.

Goalball is played three-a-side on a court 18-metres long and the ball, slighty larger than a basketball containing several bells, can travel up to 30mph.

“Representing my country was such a proud feeling, an honour and a privilege,” said Paul, who has been registered blind for about 20 years and has a guide dog called Pippin.

“It was a team effort and bringing home the gold was a goalball career high for me.

“It’s physically and mentally tiring, concentrating on where the ball is,” said the 52-year-old, whose strength is in defence. “You tune your hearing to where the sound is coming from.

“It was a very good weekend, with great cameraderie and we all have a laugh. Goalball is a small community, so we all know and support one another, even though we play for different teams.

“I’d encourage anyone to have a go. You can have sight and still play, but only up to national league level.

“Goalball takes me around the country and I have made a lot of friends. It’s like a big family,” added Paul, a buyer in the engineering industry, who also enjoys modern jive dancing.

“Life has got its challenges, but life is for living and I try and apply that to everything I do.”

The sport was originally developed to rehabilitate blinded veterans after WWII and is the only team sport invented specifically for visually impaired people. In the past four years alone, participation has increased 425%. Currently, goalball is also the only Paralympic team sport for women and boasts a highly successful national women’s GB team.

Kathryn Fielding, development officer for Goalball UK, said: “It was a fantastic experience to facilitate what will be the first of many Goalball UK Home Nations tournaments. Players came from all corners of the UK for the chance to be crowned the best and we saw some fiercely contested games as players represented their nations.

“Congratulations to England for claiming the victory across the weekend, but also to each player from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that made the journey to York and made the tournament a truly remarkable occasion.

“Tournaments like this couldn’t be made possible without the support of partners like York St John University. They have supported goalball fantastically and understand the value of participation in sport and all the benefits that follow.”

Recent, significant funding from Sport England topping £1.4m has allowed for the sport to support further participation even after a period of unprecedented increase growth continues.