Letchworth man officiates in Paralympic blind football final

AN IT CONSULTANT who officiated in the Paralympics blind football gold medal match has said it was “a once-in-a-lifetime experience”.

Perry Gascoine from Letchworth GC was involved in 15 of the 20 games held over 10 days at the Riverbank Arena at the London 2012 Olympic Park, including the showpiece final on Saturday where reigning Paralympic champions Brazil beat France 2-0.

The 38-year-old acted as one of two ‘fourth officials’ in the final as well as performing roles as the timekeeper and scorer.

Starting his refereeing career in 11-a-side football in 1991, Mr Gascoine switched to Futsal – a form of five-a-side indoor football – about five years ago.

In 2009 he qualified as a blind football official, where players with visual impairments compete using a size 4 ball with a bell inside.

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“It was amazing just to be involved in the game that meant so much to the players and the managers and to play a small but very important part in that,” said Mr Gascoine, who turned to refereeing because he was “absolutely hopeless” at playing football.

“It was difficult trying to deal with the emotions of the managers who were trying to win gold and keeping them inside their technical area. It’s the second largest sporting event in the world, second only to the Olympics and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be involved.”

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In blind football four players on each team wear blindfolds and are aided by two off the pitch guides and a fully-sighted goalkeeper.

About the practicalities of officiating the sport, in which the crowd must remain silent so the players can track the ball, the Hertfordshire FA official added: “It’s far harder refereeing a blind game. Obviously the players can’t see you so you are constantly having to think about your position in the game. In 11-a-side, when the ball goes out for a goal kick your mind can relax until the ball is back into play but it’s non-stop in blind football.”

Mr Gascoine said being selected was particularly special because his dad John – who had a quadruple heart bypass operation in 2009 which left him in a life-threatening condition – was able to attend.

“When he was seriously ill he said he wanted to see the Olympics without knowing I would be involved in the Paralympics,” said Mr Gascoine.

“To see my dad in the front row in the main stand having been at my first game, that was a defining moment for me.”

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