In the summer of 2017, England’s lionesses inspired the nation with their performances in 12th edition of the UEFA Women’s Championship, where they fell to the eventual winners, the Netherlands, in the Semi-Finals of the competition.
As a direct result of the England Women’s team’s successes in the tournament, women’s football in England has had its profile significantly raised with a peak audience of 4 million people in their semi-final game. The level of interest since then has continued to grow, thanks to the regularity of more and more positive role models coming out of the female game.
One person that was deeply inspired by the tournament was Mariam Pasha, which led to her making a phone call that would change her life, in ways she could imagine, for the better.
Mariam is 28 years old, and happens to have learning difficulties, a cognitive condition that provides her with challenges acquiring knowledge and skills to the level expected of people of the same age. Despite her impairment, Mariam is a happy, fun, energetic girl who wants nothing more than to live a normal life, which has been made virtually impossible due to society continuing to kick her down at every possible turn.
Mariam formerly attended Ridgewood Community High School, which provides a safe learning environment for children and young adults with a wide range of special educational needs and disabilities. She thoroughly enjoyed her time at the school, leaving with great confidence, many lifelong friends and with a feeling of excitement to move onto the next challenge.
The next challenge came in the form of mainstream further education, far away from the protection, care and support she received at her high school. Attending a total of three colleges in her time, having to leave two due to enduring extreme situations of verbal abuse and bullying due to her appearance and impairments, leading Mariam to question her place within a mainstream environment as well as her self-worth as a person.
Thankfully the final further education provider she attended were able to provide Mariam with the care and support she required, allowing her to complete her time there in its entirety, leaving her with many great memories that managed to mask her previous experiences. This was a great boost to her confidence, and restored her faith in her abilities to conform to a mainstream setting and belong.
After leaving college, unfortunately Mariam found herself greatly missing the constant support and care she relied so heavily on, resulting in her to be involved in family issues that eventually would lead Mariam to leave home and move into shared accommodation where she could receive more consistent support.
These set-backs have had a severely negative affect on Mariam in particular, in terms of her confidence and levels of self-esteem as well as her ability to trust new people in places she is not familiar with. These issues have resulted in Mariam excluding herself from society and turning a blind eye to the support and opportunities available to her, with support workers claiming she was difficult to engage with. It seemed Mariam’s spirit and resilience had eventually been broken in her quest to seek normality.
This was the case until one day when Mariam observed the England Women’s Team beat France one nil in the quarter finals of the UEFA Women’s Championships. This led to Mariam, uncharacteristically, picking up the phone to contact Burnley Football Club and express her new invested interest in playing football just like her new-found role models had done on the TV previously that day.
After speaking with Lewis Rimmer, Burnley FC in the Community’s Disability Development Officer, Mariam was amazed at the opportunities available to her, despite her impairment and set out to attend the Adult Development Centre, a session that is an introduction to football for adults with disabilities in an unpressured, fun environment. Before long, Mariam found herself attending a further two hours a week, including the newly formed female squad under the umbrella ‘Burnley Disability Football Club (BDFC)’. This had not gone unnoticed, and Mariam was presented with official Burnley FC training kit, something that she wears with pride at every session she attends.
Within the same month, Mariam had represented BDFC at the Greater Manchester Ability Counts Football League (GMACFL), playing against established opposition including teams from Manchester City, Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers. This allowed Mariam to apply the technical skills and tactics she had learned in training sessions to game situations, bringing her dream to life.
As well as her weekly participation, it has been important to increase the amount of opportunities Mariam can access and therefore improving her confidence levels. This has been achieved through numerous match day experience events, where Mariam has represented the female BDFC squad at Burnley FC vs Crystal Palace, taking part in the guard of honour activity as well as representing BFCitC on diversity day, supporting the kick it out campaign vs. Swansea City. Both events required Mariam to stand in front of a crowd in excess of 21,500 people, something that months previously would have been unimaginable.
Mariam is now Burnley’s biggest fan, attending Turf Moor on a regular basis when her finances will allow, adding to her interest in football, not only the women’s game, but also the men’s, witnessing the Premier League first hand, arguably the best league in the world.
It is fair to say that Mariam’s journey is an inspirational one, and her involvement in the PL / BT Disability Fund has changed her life and steered her from being in a position of self-exclusion, to now having something to dedicate her time to. This has given her a new outlook on life and thanks to her new-found confidence and self-esteem she continues to be the life and soul of every session she attends, slowly becoming a role model for others and making many new friends in the process.
Identified as the key to Mariam’s successful development and happiness is receiving support and care from others, with many of the highest periods of her life coming when this was the case. BFCitC have managed to provide this, with their caring and person-centred methods of engagement. Often when asked what she enjoys most about football, Mariam will reply with seeing the coaches and the staff, which is a credit to the Disability Development Team that have worked alongside Mariam, providing the perfect role models for her to look up to and aspire to be.
With many sessions being located at Turf Moor, Mariam is now a familiar face around the stadium, with staff often stopping for a chat to see how she is getting on, adding to the feeling of belonging that Mariam has been seeking for so long.
Mariam’s positive outlook on life is one to behold, and the resilience she has shown throughout her life is now being rewarded. When asked about her time with BFCitC and involvement with the Danny Ings Disability Sport Project, Mariam said: “I absolutely love Burnley Football Club, I have always wanted to play football, but I never knew I could. I want to thank all of the coaches, they have made my dream come true. I even get to watch Burnley play at the stadium! My life is completely different now, I have made lots of friends that I now spend time with away from football. I don’t like to think back to a time before I started playing football.”
Someone else who has been blown away by Mariam’s progress has been her mother who when asked said: “Mariam has flourished ever since she started with Burnley FC in the Community. She has met some wonderful people and made a lot of friends. Thank you to every one of the coaches for putting a smile back on my daughter’s face.”
Mariam’s life truly has changed for the better, thanks to this fantastic project, feats like this would not be possible without the resources that it can provide thanks to the PL / BT Disability Fund, which will continue to impact lives for years to come.
For more information on the Danny Ings Disability Sport Project and how to get involved please contact Lewis Rimmer on email@example.com or 01282 704716.