More than just a football team!

Team Manager, Carl Eaton, of the Skem Men-Aces talks to Find Your Activity reporter Lucy Pilkington about the success of the team and how we need to improve the accessibility of clubs and activities for individuals with disabilities.

Who are the Skem Men-Aces?

Based in Skelmersdale, a friendly and welcoming new town set in the Lancashire Valley on the River Tawd. The Olympic-winning Skem Men-Aces are the most highly decorated football club in the UK for adults with a disability. Since they established in 2009, the team has gone from strength to strength being recognised for their achievements through numerous awards (not to mention receiving the Queen's Award for Volunteer Services), trophies, and features.

Consisting of over 60 team members, the Skem Men-Aces have enjoyed over 12 years of success, travelling all over the country to compete in games and competitions, accumulating to an impressive jam-packed trophy cabinet, including a silver medal from the Special Olympics National Games. The success of the team has not only been seen on the pitch.

The Skem Men-Aces have been awarded for their continuous hard work behind the scenes including; The Sunday Telegraphs Volunteer of the Year (2012), The BBC North West Unsung Hero Award (2015), The Prime Ministers Points of Light Award (2016), and The Queen's Award for Voluntary Services (2016).

skemIf you haven't already figured it out by now, the Skem Men-Aces are so much more than a football club.

The Men-Aces

Carl recalls with great fondness the Sunday afternoon in 2009 that he sat down with his brother Harry and unknowingly to the both of them, a casual conversation about football, established the foundation for the Skem Men-Aces. After some deliberation with his wife Mim, the two decided to start a football team for disabled adults. The first meeting held in June 2009 only 6 men turn up for the team, but little did they know the impact the team was to have on members and the community of Skelmersdale.

"The team started off as a bit of fun, something for the lads to be a part of. Within 12 months we realised that we had a sleeping giant on our hands and that we could only expand, getting better and better. Now we travel the length and breadth of the country to play football. It's magical.

"You can have the worst day and you get to training, and you see the smiles on those lads faces and that's what it's all about."

Fast forward 12 years, the team have now won everything there is to win in the game of football. Travelling all over the country, the Skem Men-Aces now stand as the most highly decorated football team in the country. Nevertheless, Carl's humble approach insists that it is the team that is responsible for this success, concluding that the Skem Men-Aces belong to the men who make it.

"The club doesn't belong to us; it belongs to the boys."

Carl is keen to point out that to him, the team is about so much more than football alone, recognising the importance of promoting health and well-being, not just physically but also mentally.

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"It's important to me that the individual is part of something, a group. This team is 60 instant friends who all guard each other's backs fiercely. I've always said, you can have the worst day and you get to training, and you see the smiles on those lads faces and that's what it's all about, ultimately it's about promoting health and well-being, all this business with mental health, it promotes it all for the right reasons."

Highlighting the significance and the impact of making clubs and activities more accessible for individuals with disabilities, Carl stressed the importance of this becoming the norm.

"Every activity should be accessible to disabilities, disabilities shouldn't be kept apart from anything, it's the norm. It's getting better, but there are still loads of room for improvement."

We at Find Your Activity couldn't agree more! All individuals must have the opportunity to be a part of something, whether that be with your local football club or an arts and crafts session at the coffee shop in town, everyone deserves the chance to take part. At Find Your Activity, we are always keen to develop and further the accessibility of the clubs on our platform. That's why when you create a club with us you have the option to select who your activities cater for, by the means of age, location, and disability.

The man behind the club

The unsung hero (don't just take our word for it, BBC Northwest also agrees) behind the football team is Team Manager Carl Eaton. Born in 1962 with Spina Bifida, Carl is an unstoppable football-loving, charity working force of nature, having already raised £70,000 over the years for various charities.

Every year, Carl comes up with a "mad event" to raise money, half going towards a chosen charity or individual and half going towards the Skem Men-Aces. In the past Carl has untaken the Greater Manchester Marathon, becoming the only man to complete the marathon in a non-modified wheelchair, abseiled down the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, and more recently let a tarantula crawl all over his face (a braver man than most of us, I'm sure we can agree). However, this year's event may be the maddest of them all, on the 4th of September, Carl will be taking part in the Tough Mudder Challenge.

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"People look at me like I've gone mad!"

Carl reached out on Facebook to his community and asked for suggestions on where the money raised should go. Initially, the idea was for half to go towards the Skem Men-Aces, but a heart wrenching story changed the plan.

"When I heard about Lily, I thought that's it, the money has to go to Lily"

Five-year-old Lily-Mae Esfangiary from Up Holland suffers from Cockayne Syndrome, a rare illness characterised by small stature, premature aging, and developmental delays, affecting one in 500,000 babies. Carls original goal of raising £300 to send Lily on the holiday in the UK and donating to Amy and Friends has been immensely surpassed, with his total now reaching £3500 and still climbing.

"Either people are really generous, or they want to see a balding man in a wheelchair do the Tough Mudder."

With great humour and determination, Carl discussed how with his family, he will be carried on a stretcher throughout the course and upon reaching an obstacle, will be thrown into the mud to tackle it. Only adding to his obvious comical side, Carl, alongside his family and friends will be dressed up in hospital gowns and masks to undertake the challenge.

If you would like to donate to this extremely worthy cause the link can be found here.

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Being a man of many talents, it should be no surprise that Carl has also ventured out to write his own children's book. My Gan-Gan's Pram. Taking inspiration from his beloved granddaughter Harriet (better known as Curly), Carl wanted to write a book about his disability through Harriet's eyes. Inspiration for the heart-warming book struck during a visit to Curly, who after pushing around her pram decided to try and push Carl in his wheelchair at just 13 months old. Understanding first-hand how positive representations of disability are underrepresented in children's literature, Carl set out to write the book from the perspective of "a little girl who cannot judge, just accept", developing into the adventures of Curly and her Gan Gan.

"a little girl who cannot judge, just accept"

Visit My Gan-Gan's Pram, to find out more.

The future of Skem Men-Aces

Due to setbacks involving Covid 19, the team has been out of action for the past year. Speaking with excitement, Carl recalls the team reunion last month. While current situations still call for precautions, Carl recognises the influence the Skem Men-Aces has on its team players, as together they are not just a football team, but rather friends for life.

"At the moment it's more important to concentrate on getting the lads together playing football and just being back together as a group of friends, that's more important to me than anything else."

That being said, with fingers crossed, Carl hopes that after Christmas the team will back doing what they do best on the pitch, and undoubtedly adding more trophies to their already jam-packed cabinet (it might be time to invest in a spare).

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In the future, Carl hopes to expand the Skem Men-Aces even further to include a Junior's Section for individuals from ages 6 to 12 years old with disabilities.

We want to wish Carl good luck from the Find Your Activity team for his Tough Mudder Challenge later this year, and we look forward to seeing the Skem Men-Aces grow further and further in the years to come!

For more information on how to contact this amazing club and join the Skem Men-Aces

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