BAGGIES Premier League stars today backed five blind footballers as they prepared to tomorrow embark on gruelling challenge ‘Walk The Albion Way’ in a bid to raise money for the club’s charitable arm, The Albion Foundation.
Players from the Foundation’s B1 blind football team – Simon Hill, 28, Muhammad Ibraheem Iqbal, 15, Ian McNamara, 30, Shammi Ral, 18, and Darren Harris, 40 – will be walking the 86 miles from Anfield to The Hawthorns.
The walkers will leave Merseyside tomorrow morning and arrive in the Black Country in time for the Barclays Premier League clash between the two clubs on Sunday, February 2 (ko 1.30pm).
Club skipper Chris Brunt was this afternoon joined by Craig Dawson, Matej Vydra and Luke Daniels as the first-teamers challenged the blind side to a penalty shootout before they set off for the North West.
Brunt & co triumphed 2-1 thanks to successful spot-kicks from Daniels and Dawson.
"The Albion Foundation do some fantastic work,” said Brunt.
"I've been here for a long time and I've been lucky enough to do a lot of work with them.
"You always get the chance to do something different and this is the first time I've had the pleasure of playing blind football.
"Not everyone gets the chance to observe the work they do but it's fantastic for the community.
“Today was a chance to see how good the blind players actually are.
“We had the opportunity to take a penalty each which is pretty difficult."
The Albion-Liverpool game has been designated ‘The Albion Foundation Day’ when Foundation staff will be raising awareness of, and funds for, its work in the community.
With the support of guides Adam Crowle, Paul Glover, Ajay Gill, Andy Turnbull and wheelchair-bound Paul Hunt, who are members of the Foundation’s Disability sports set-up, the blind footballers aim to raise £10,000 to help the charity continue to support them and the Foundation’s ten other disability teams.
Their arrival before the Liverpool game will kick-off The Albion Foundation Day’s activities.
After the game each player will sign his shirt and the jerseys will be auctioned in aid of the Foundation.
For 22 years, the registered charity has given children, young people and adults with physical and learning disabilities the chance to play competitive sport by providing training, coaching, kit, transport, venues, accommodation and more.
Through schooling, sport and education, the Foundation sets out to raise aspirations and help participants achieve their goals. As part of this work, the Foundation supports more than 520 disabled people every week.
The Albion Foundation’s director, Rob Lake, who will also be a guide on the walk, said: “We are very proud of our disability work and are recognised nationally as an example of good practice.
“However, running disability teams is costly and we are always looking for ways to generate funds to maintain and increase our provision.
“Monies raised from the challenge and The Albion Foundation Day will make a huge difference and enable us to do more great work.
“The challenge would not have been possible without our sponsors Hollywood Monster, Bache Pallets, University of Wolverhampton, Hotel Sop UK, Primark, Free Radio and South & City College Birmingham.
“We are extremely grateful for their support and we hope that other businesses, and of course the club’s supporters, will get behind us.”
Darren Harris, who lost his sight through bilateral blastoma (cancer of the eyes) at 15 months old, said: “This will be a huge challenge but something that the team want to do to help raise awareness of The Albion Foundation and its great work.
“Being an Albion Foundation football player has given me the opportunity to play for England, travel, meet some fantastic people and be part of a very special experience.”
Challenge organiser Jon Ross, from The Albion Foundation, added: “We’re really proud of our players and everything they achieve each season, but particularly the guys that have volunteered to take part in Walk The Albion Way.
“Our work can help to change people’s lives. The funds we hopefully raise will not only enable us to keep giving our players opportunities, but also to reach out to others with a view to making their sporting dreams come true.”