In this interview, I spoke to Samantha Gough – a 20-year-old blind athlete from Edinburgh, who is the captain of England’s first ever blind women’s football squad.

At school, Samantha encountered numerous barriers in accessing sport. She talks about finding blind football; how the women’s game is growing around the world; and her squad’s ambition to take it to the next level.


Q: When did you lose your sight?

A: Up until my mid-teens, I was always partially sighted. But I was told by doctors that I could go to sleep one day and wake up with no vision at all. The possibility of this remained at the back of my mind, and it made me anxious, not knowing if or when that day could come.


Q: Have you always enjoyed sport?

A: I attended mainstream education and right from primary school, I absolutely loved sport. I took part in swimming, cross country, competitive dance  and football. Being partially sighted at the time, I was able to participate without major adaptations, so for football, I didn’t need a bell in the ball or anything like that. My peers looked upon me as an athlete, and at high school I was encouraged by the PE teachers to take dance and PE for Highers (the Scottish equivalent to A-Levels).


Q: How did the school respond when your sight deteriorated further? Were they supportive?

A:  I lost most of my vision after just starting my Highers. I couldn’t read the same print size anymore. The magnifiers weren’t working, and the school had to get me an iPad to enlarge the text. However, while they made adaptations for the written coursework, I didn’t receive any support when it came to the practical side of the PE syllabus. There was bullying from not just classmates, but also the teachers. I had teachers questioning my visual impairment, saying ‘just open your eyes, you can see that’. It was horrendous. They put me in situations that they knew I could not cope with. For instance, playing dodgeball. They knew I wouldn’t be able to see the ball coming towards me and yet people were chucking balls at my face. Ironically, the classmates bullying me were ones I had played sport with since primary school. I went from being their first pick for team captain, to the last pick. Then it got even worse. The teacher said I couldn’t participate in mainstream PE anymore. They were not willing to make adaptations for me, so I was removed altogether. Apart from my support worker, nobody in the school questioned it. I ended up taking my dance exam, but I was never allowed to finish the PE course.


Q: What was your experience in terms of finding adapted sport?

A: When I was having problems at school, I went to a taster session for goalball at a local disability organisation in Dundee. I enjoyed it, but I wanted to try other sports like football. Unfortunately, these activities were only offered in England. Where I am in Scotland, there aren’t many opportunities to do adapted sports. So, in 2021, I ended up going to the RNC in Herefordshire for two weeks, where they were holding sports sessions with British Blind Sport. It was great. I was scouted from there to do goalball and later to join England’s first ever blind women’s football squad.


Q: How does blind football work?

A: It’s a five-aside football game. All outfield players are blindfolded to ensure everyone is on an equal playing field. However,’ our goalkeeper is sighted. We use a ball that contains ball bearings, and there are two boards that run down the side of the pitch which help with echo location.


Q: When did the England women’s squad officially start playing?

A:  Our development sessions commenced in November 2021. By January, we were training in St George’s Park, the national home ground. Our first game, which was a friendly against Sweden, took place in April. And then we were officially announced as England’s first blind women’s team on 26 May. It was the most incredible feeling.


Q: How big is blind women’s football across Europe and the world?

A: In 2022, we went to the European Championships and at the time, there were only two teams: England and Germany. Despite this, that event had to go ahead to get the ball rolling and showcase blind women’s football. Then last year, we went to the World Games and there were eight teams. Our first game was against Japan, our second game was against Morocco, our third game was against Sweden, and our fourth game was against Germany. This year we are currently training for the Grand Prix in Argentina, which will be held in October.


Q: In mainstream football, there continues to be a significant gender pay gap. Is it a similar situation in blind football?

A: Both male and female blind footballers receive no payment. Our accommodation and travel are covered, so we don’t lose any pennies getting to camp which is good. But there’s no prize money or salary. Hopefully if blind football gets bigger, there might be in the future.


Q: As a team, what is your ultimate goal?

A: We want to go to the Paralympics in LA 2028. Right now, blind men’s football is a Paralympic sport. But it isn’t yet for women. We tried to get the Paralympic Committee to accept blind women’s football for Paris, but it was too late. We really want to stand our ground and show that blind women’s football is football and we are good enough to take part in a major competition.

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