Tuesday 22 October 2019

GB v Germany: How does a football rivalry translate to the Special Olympics?

Great Britain and Germany’s Special Olympics seven-a-side teams found themselves grouped together in Abu Dhabi.

Great Britain and Germany shake hands ahead of their seven-a-side match at the World Games (Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019)
Great Britain and Germany shake hands ahead of their seven-a-side match at the World Games (Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019)

By Max McLean, Press Association

For many in Great Britain a footballing rivalry with Germany means a great deal, but how does that manifest itself at the Special Olympics?

The Special Olympics GB seven-a-side team would find out at the World Games in Abu Dhabi – a celebration of athletes with intellectual disabilities – after they were drawn in a group with Australia, Switzerland and Germany.

As coach Liam Dwyer told the Press Association of the game: “Yeah, it has some significant history doesn’t it?”

(Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019)

“Everyone at home likes to beat the Germans because of the World Cup!” said midfielder and forward Tom Ward from St Albans.

Meanwhile for Reece Johnson, a midfielder, the chance to get involved in the rivalry in a competition fixture was welcome.

“Whenever England play Germany it’s always a big game,” he said. “So it felt good to have a good competitive game against them.”

(Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019)

Meanwhile the quality of both teams means that comparisons between the international scene and the Special Olympic arena are valid – while this GB team are one of the favourites for gold, Germany represent one of their trickiest challenges.

“I knew the game was going to be tough because Germany are quite a good team, quite tough, so it was a physical game,” said Derek Taylor.

Indeed, a 0-0 result full of big tackles and a late flurry of chances confirmed how evenly matched these sides were in the seven-a-side arena.

“I’m very happy with the draw,” said goalkeeper Sean McCulloch. “This was the hardest game (for us) I would think at the moment.”

But while plenty of the rivalry seems to translate to this World Games fixture, the Special Olympics movement gives it its own flavour, combining a will to win with respect and the forging of new relationships.

“We showed respect for them, handshakes at the end of the match,” said McCulloch, who swapped one of his World Games badges with an opponent at full time.

“It doesn’t matter what rivalry it is. As long as everybody’s together.”

Meanwhile, those sentiments were reflected in the crowd of friends, family and fans who were sat together watching from the stand.

“In the crowd the German supporters and the British supporters were all having a laugh together, chanting together and all sorts,” said Ward’s father Steve.

“There was no animosity. It was just a friendly atmosphere and it’s the same with the players. They all came off together – not as two teams, but together.”

And while building new friendships doesn’t necessarily take priority over victories, make no mistake: there is more than one way to leave this tournament a winner.

“I think we’ve got a very good chance of winning gold,” said Johnson. “But even if we don’t, we’ve made new friends and that’s what matters.”

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