Powerchair football King and England captain, Chris Gordon discusses new partnership between G5 Sports Services and ableMove!

Powerchair football is a widely accessible and inclusive sport. ableMove UK and G5 Sports Services are pleased to today announce the launch of a new partnership that will see the two businesses working side by side to promote accessibility and inclusion in sports but particularly powerchair football and to encourage wheelchair users to explore new possibilities.

ableMove’s range of lifestyle products, initially designed to support wheelchair users when flying on an aircraft, have been adapted to now suit wheelchair users in a whole range of day to day activities and to support more independent living. Many customers have been using the ableMove range in a whole variety of sporting activities, on an amateur and professional level and Chris is keen to ensure that athletes in the UK and Europe are able to make the most of the Strike Force chairs that G5 Sports Services specialises in distributing for powerchair football players.

Josh commented on the new partnership, “All of us at ableMove are absolutely delighted to support G5S in trying to encourage more people in playing powerchair football. We look forward to promoting the sport whilst showing how our products can help make powerchair football more seamless and comfortable.”

Chris said, “Society is still largely uneducated about the world of disability and the challenges and issues that are our reality every day. We hope, with this partnership, to be a small part of changing this and helping wider society understand more about disability and in particular disabled sports. It is so important to promote and celebrate disabled people and their achievements in sports and I hope together we can ensure that disability sport gets the recognition it deserves.”

In recognition of the new partnership, we spent some time getting to know Chris, his background and more about powerchair football!

Q – Tell us about yourself Chris

A – My name is Chris Gordon, I’m 30 years old and have Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 3. Growing up I was sport mad and lived and breathed football! I used to play on my knees in goal, diving around muddy school fields and playgrounds with my friends. As my disability started to deteriorate, I would adjust and find new ways to play. I’d perch on the edge of my seat in my powered wheelchair and kick a ball around the garden with my brother and play in goal in my chair at school. I was so competitive, I even tried out for the school team and County team. During my early secondary school years, my PE teacher heard about some Powerchair Football open sessions at Worcester University. At the time I’d never heard or seen the sport so didn’t know what to expect. I arrived and initially hated it as it didn’t resemble football as I knew it. People in electric chairs were driving round with a gigantic football with half a car tyre cable tied to the front of their chairs. It didn’t appeal to me at all! However my parents forced me to give it a go and said if I didn’t like it I’d never have to play again. It didn’t take long for that moody frown to turn into a big smile as I got stuck in and dribbled my way past two or three other players. Instantly I realised I could compete on a level playing field and I wasn’t restricted by my disability like I was when I played with my able bodied friends so I was hooked from that moment.

Q – For those of us who have never come across Wheelchair Football before, can you tell us a bit more about it?

A – Since those early years when I first encountered the sport, it has come on a long way. There is now a competitive National League (UK) structure with 24 competing teams and various regional leagues dotted around the country. The FA took on the sports National Team back in 2012 as well so there is an official England Powerchair Football team that competes in all the major International competitions (European Championships & World Cup). Powerchair Football continues to grow around the globe with more and more nations coming on board and setting up official Wheelchair Football Governing bodies and teams. We now have to qualify for the World Cup through the Euros due to the number of teams competing, so there is much more depth in competition now. There’s also purpose built equipment for the sport that allows athletes like me to reach our potential, and compete on a level playing field with the other teams and players.

Q – What is The Strike Force chair?

A – The Strike Force chair was designed and built in the US by a family who own a machinery business. Their son played Powerchair Football at the time and they soon realised the struggle of the athletes and teams in finding and modifying suitable day chairs to be used to play the sport. So, they designed their own Powerchair Football specific chair for the athletes in the US. The chair quickly gained popularity and was then wanted by all the athletes playing worldwide. Japan and Australia were first on the scene to get hold of them, and then France and Belgium quickly followed behind. In the UK we were stuck in the midst of some sports politics, which meant our league wouldn’t allow the chairs to be used in domestic competition even though they were being used in the majority of nations worldwide. Myself and some of my England teammates pushed extremely hard to try and get our governing body to change their minds but we kept coming up against obstacles. I could absolutely see at this point that these purpose built chairs were the future of our game though and I ordered one anyway. The logistics around importing my chair from the US were incredibly frustrating and time consuming. Eventually I received my chair, but I realised it was going to take someone in the UK to setup a business to import the chairs for people who wanted to purchase them. G5 Sports Services is now the official UK distributor for the Strike Force. We have helped over 250 athletes get access to the Strike Force, both in the UK and Europe and have established ourselves as the place to go, for anything related to wheelchairs and Powerchair Football.

Q – Tell us more about your partnership with us here at ableMove UK

A – My partner Niamh who also works with me at G5 Sports Services became aware of yourselves after Josh had won the UK Disabled Entrepreneur Awards for the easyTravelseat (aka ableSling). We both felt that the ableSling could benefit me and also our customers in the world of Powerchair Football. We could tell from our first meeting with Josh that he was the kind of guy we would like to work with and we felt that the ableMove range of products would be an asset to our customer base. It is really important to us that we work with likeminded companies with a similar passion and ethos and who are in the disability market for the right reasons. We are excited to see where the journey takes us.

Q – How do our range of products and the Strike Force chair fit together?

A – Initially we felt the ableSling would just benefit our customer base when travelling, but when we saw the ableMove products first hand, we soon realised that they were extremely discreet and very functional and could therefore be used in everyday life. We see many players sitting on other branded slings in their Strike Force chairs for ease of transfers to and from their day chairs and unfortunately, they stick out like a saw thumb! They are often bright in colour and excessive in terms of material hanging out all over the place. The ableSling by contrast has a compact and sleek design that allows the user to transfer to and from their football chair effortlessly and without compromising their look and comfort in their Strike Force. We feel this is a much more stylish and practical solution for those players who require the use of a mobile hoist to transfer in and out of their Strike Force.

Q – Tell us what your plans are for the next 12 months

A – First of all, we hope to get some sort of normality back into both our work and personal lives as the last 12 months with Covid have been extremely difficult for everyone. I hope that the world has become a much nicer and friendlier environment to live and that society will be much more accepting and supportive of disabled people. We will hopefully play an active role in helping Powerchair Football resume and assisting the sports athletes to get back to enjoying football and being in their Strike Force chairs.

Q – What are your thoughts on disability in sports on a wider scale?

A – I think society has a long way to go before we can truly say that disabled people are treated as equals and are free to live a relatively normal life without being held back or being discriminated against, let alone see a fair representation of disability sports. Disability sport is often overlooked and the athletes involved are often not recognised in their achievements in the same way as non-disabled athletes are.