ALBION have already qualified for Europe – fact!
Barely a press conference goes by without Steve Clarke being asked about the Baggies’ chances of making the Europa League, having been impressively placed in the top half of the table all season.
With Albion currently nine points behind Saturday’s opponents Arsenal, who occupy the final European berth, it looks a tall order.
But once the dust has settled on the 2012/13 campaign, the club WILL be represented in Europe – regardless of the team’s results in the final seven games.
That is because Sporting Club Albion’s (SCA) powerchair team have booked a place at this summer’s EPFA Power Champions League – the powerchair equivalent of the UEFA Champions League.
As part of their preparations for the three-day tournament, which kicks off on June 26, the six-man squad – featuring captain Chris Gordon, Amy Wharton, Daniel Kay, Rich George, David Lewis and Lizzy Tullett - were today presented with a unique challenge.
At Albion’s Barclays Space 4 Sports Community Sports Hall, Halfords Lane, SCA took on Steve and his coaching staff in a fundraising game of powerchair football.
Head coach Steve lined-up alongside assistants Kevin Keen and Keith Downing and goalkeeping coach Dean Kiely in the four-a-side contest.
However, there was a twist. If Steve’s team lost, it would hit them in the pocket – but for a very worthy cause.
SCA’s powerchair team is run by The Albion Foundation, a registered charity that works in partnership with the football club.
The players qualified for the Power Champions League, which will see the top ten teams from across Europe battle it out, by finishing runners-up in the WFA National Cup and third place in the WFA National Premiership.
The Foundation are currently trying to raise £9,000 to make the France trip possible for the SCA squad and 12 carers/support staff.
And the team did their fundraising drive the power of good this afternoon – by winning the challenge match 6-0 in a very one-sided affair!
To compound the coaching staff’s misery, Kevin was sent off in the dying stages for persistent fouling!
Rob Lake, director of The Albion Foundation, laid down the challenge to Steve and his coaching staff immediately after SCA qualified for the Power Champions League.
“I asked Steve if he would be interested in taking part in a match against our powerchair team and that if his team lost, whether they would be willing to donate money to help raise the funds to get the team to Paris,” said Rob.
“He agreed straight away and it was brilliant to have Steve and his coaching team with us today.
“It was a real fun occasion which will massively raise the profile of what the team have achieved and hopefully help us reach that magic £9,000 figure to give the players the chance to fulfill their European dream.
“We’ve already received generous donations, including from the club, which we are grateful for, but we still have some way to go to reach the £9,000 figure.”
Steve has been a great supporter of the Foundation since arriving at the club last summer and has taken a keen interest in the disability section, being the guest of honour at last September’s disability awards evening.
And he has nothing but admiration for today’s opponents, having learned first hand just how talented the club’s powerchair footballers are.
“I managed to pick it up – but not very quickly!” quipped Steve.
“It’s really difficult.
“I went to watch a training session three weeks ago and they showed me their moves and routines.
“I was thinking ‘I can do that’ – and Rob threw the challenge down.
“There are different speeds on the chair and the SCA players play on level five.
“I started on level one and tried level five once – but it was too quick. I got frightened!
“In truth, we were hopeless!
“To add to my problems, Kevin got sent off and that’s given me another internal disciplinary matter to deal with!”
Steve added: “The guys at The Albion Foundation who run the team deserve a lot of praise and I haven’t got enough words, or admiration, for the competitors.
“To qualify for the Champions League finals is a great achievement and I wish them well.”
The Foundation offers an opportunity for players to represent West Bromwich Albion and wear the club’s colours in a range of sports at an elite level by running basketball, disability and girls/women’s football sections.
The disability section comprises four powerchair football teams, a Blind Centre of Excellence, a visually-impaired team, three PAN disability teams, a PAN junior team and a Down’s Syndrome team.
Donations can be made in several ways and the Foundation would like to discuss mutually beneficial sponsorship opportunities with businesses, companies and organisations.
Individual donations can also be made by clicking here
, by card over the phone (0871 271 9840) or by sending a cheque, made payable to ‘The Albion Foundation’, to: The Albion Foundation, Ford Street, Smethwick, West Midlands B67 7QY.
The Foundation is also running a fundraiser ‘Race Night’ at Sutton Coldfield Town FC, Coles Lanes, Birmingham, on Friday, May 10, from 7.30pm. Tickets are £5 and can be booked by phoning 0871 271 9840.