Amazing Amputee Football video

Posted on Thursday 6th February, 2014

The following was written by James Catchpole of the England Amputee Football Association (EAFA) about a video clip of an American college student, Nico Calabria, born without a right leg playing football.  A remarkable clip which has so far achieved almost 1.7 million hits on YouTube and is well worth a watch. 

It's just a thirteen-second clip, so you have to concentrate.  High summer: the sunlight blazes down; it bathes a thick line of trees and a swathe of perfect grass in the middle distance - a sports field; it reflects off an articial pitch in the foreground, silvering the astroturf; it beams straight down the lense, framing the scene in concentric haloes of light. 

We know from the close lines on the pitch and from the Y of the high goalposts (and later, from the hollers and whoops of the crowd) that we're in the USA - but today American Football has surrendered the field to soccer.  There's a footy goal on the far right with a defender standing sentry at the near post.  On the far left of our shot, an attacker steps up to take a corner. 

The ball is clipped in high and flat, a hopeful ball, not a dangerous one.  The camera follows, as it drifts far over the heads of a crowd of players in the goalmouth and drops down into the far side of the area.  It's meant for a header.  An attacker on the run might jump to meet it with the power to find the net.  A standing attacker might head it back across goal for a team mate.  That's not what happens. 

The player who meets the ball is standing alone at the far edge of the crowd of defenders and attackers in the box.  He has time to plant his feet and rise to head the cross, but he doesn't.  Instead, he seems to levitate: facing up to the ball, he lies back in mid-air, as though gravity were only a theory, whips his left foot up to where his head should be, and deliberately guides the ball - volley is too blunt a word - down, over the crowd, and into the far corner.  And the strangest thing is: he doesn't even lose his footing.  He returns to earth on the foot that struck the ball and wheels away to celebrate. 

The crowd is audibly stunned - it takes a moment for their eyes to process what they've seen.  It just isn't possible.  A player who scores with a kung-fu kick, six feet from the ground, should land in a heap on his back: the leap and kick, acrobatic; the landing, a graceless flop to the turf.  So what on earth keeps him up there until he's good and ready to come down?

The answer is: crutches.  Look again, and you'll see that, while his foot is whipping through the air above, his arms remain pointed straight down, extended telescopically to plant themselves in the ground and bear him up.  He's complete, in that moment.  A perfectly balanced triangle, centred and unshakeable.  Two arms, elongated in metal like some undiscovered X-Man, to lift him from the earth, and a foot, held easily in the high air like a hand, to deliver the impossible blow.  Three limbs in perfect synergy.  There is no fourth, to get in the way. 

Nico Calabria was born without a right leg.  He walks (and runs and darts and spins and flips) on crutches, rather than a prosthesis.  And he plays football with his able-bodied peers to such a high level that people have been heard to complain that his disability may give him an unfair advantage.  As an amputee footballer myself, I can testify to the obvious: he will always be at a very real disadvantage in both speed and strength, and growing up, he will have had to work hard just to earn the right to have skeptical schoolmates pass him the ball, at all. 

But just in that moment, when he plants his sticks and lies weightless in the air like an astronaut, I have to admit: they may have a point. 

Amputee Football is run in the UK by EAFA, the England Amputee Football Association, and in the US by the American Amputee Soccer Association. 
The game began in warzones in the 1980s among victims of landmines and mutilations, and has made its way across the globe over the past two decades.  It is now played by over twenty-five countries, with its own bi-annual world cup, and is applying for inclusion in the Paralympics for Tokyo 2020. 



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