CP United: The club championing our game at the UEFA Champions Festival

CP United: The club championing our game at the UEFA Champions Festival


As the sound of the final whistle at the UEFA Champions League Final rose into the London sky, a group of aspiring Cerebral Palsy footballers started readying themselves for a huge occasion of their own.


Players from CP United FC, a club solely for players with cerebral palsy (and acquired brain injury), made the journey down south on June 2, representing IFCPF at the UEFA Champions Festival the day after Real Madrid's 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium.


The enormity of the event was not lost on the players, with Club co-founder Michelle Wilcock seeing firsthand the joy on the faces of young footballers doing what they love.


"It’s the first time most of them had been to London, so that in itself was really exciting for them," Wilcock said.


"I think the fact that there were stands there as well made it very special for them.


"There were some people watching in the stands and they enjoyed interacting with the crowd and getting cheered on.

“They made some great memories and this type of experience is fantastic for their all-round development.”


CP United was officially formed in November 2014, and next season will mark its tenth year in existence. 


The club is based in England's north-west and currently runs sessions across the region in Lancashire, Cumbria, Merseyside, Cheshire and Greater Manchester.


The club have over 160 registered and active each week and works with junior and adult players, while also having an early years program working with children as young as three.


The club's first junior session was held in February 2015 in Partington, Greater Manchester and has grown each since, expanding to six centres across the region. The adult section has also grown and next season will see them have 3 adult squads.


There is a clear opportunity for players to grow with the club and enjoy their football. Several players who attended the first junior session in January 2015 are still at the club and had the opportunity nearly ten years later to play together at the UEFA event and advertise Cerebral Palsy Football on a large stage.


There is a real chemistry between these players on the pitch, but even more of a chemistry off it, which is constantly evident.


"By being involved they have made friends for life, especially that group actually, because they're the first lot who have been together since the ages of four, five and six and they're all now in their teens together and really close."


"It's the friends for life, especially that group, because they're the first lot who've been together and they're all now in the sixteens, so they're really, they're really close.


"We also had some of the young players from different groups attend the UEFA Champions Festival and it was lovely for them to build on their bonds too and interact
with some of their older clubmates.


"They didn’t stop singing all the way home on the coach, so that was a sign that all the children who came along had a great day.”


Players from Cerebral Palsy United FC at the UEFA Champions Festival. (Photo: Supplied)

While each player who trains has their idiosyncrasies making them unique; they share a commonality in their disability.


In other walks of life, they are singled out; here, their disability brings them together.


This togetherness permeates through the club, and this uniting factor extends well beyond the parameters of a football pitch.


"I think one of the big things about the club, and we get this feedback all the time from the players from different age groups, it is for them. 


"It's their place, it's like a family and when they come, they're not the kid with CP, like they might be at school, they can be themselves and that is celebrated and valued.”


"It's all about what they can do as opposed to what they can’t and it's never, 'that's the kid with CP or 'that's the adult with CP,'  they are just at football with their mates.

"I think that's quite a powerful thing."


"That's what football can do, it brings people together and a lot of them have said  they feel like that's where they belong it feels."

Players from CP United during the UEFA Champions Festival session. (Photo: Supplied)

The opportunity to educate the wider public and to grow the game was crucial, as more people were made aware of the game, and how they can play it.


Wilcock was quick to praise the work being done in growing the sport, while championing themselves as an important stakeholder in advancing it because of the chances they give to players around the north of England.


"It's important to show the link with the IFCPF that the governing body of CP football is, this is what it is.


"There is a lot of good work going on around the world within CP Football, and IFCPF are driving it, working hard to drive it, and it is growing.


"It's important to have a link with the IFCPF as the governing body of CP Football, as we know the work they are doing globally to grow the game and we appreciate this opportunity to represent them at this great event.


"I think for what we do, in terms of kids right through to adults, we're probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest in terms of numbers and that is something we are proud of, but isn’t why we do what we do.”


While the size of the club and being known as the most popular might not be the main driving force behind its unquestionable success, the opportunities given to players are certainly a contributing factor.


Registrations for the club's sessions have seen a small upturn since appearing at the UEFA Champions Festival, with "a couple more" players having chosen to join recently according to Wilcock.


While not a jump of astronomic proportions, there is still an increase in eyes on CP United FC, with new members of the community often in awe at the facilities on offer.


"When people get in touch for the first time and come to training, and see the opportunities available a lot of the parents are amazed and quite overwhelmed.


"That’s the same for some of the adults who have joined us, who didn’t have these opportunities when they were younger, so never really got the chance to access the
game properly.


"They are so grateful and happy to have found somewhere to play and that’s why we do what we do as a club.”


Cerebral Palsy Football remains a growing phenomenon, and while clubs like CP United FC and the game as a whole continue to benefit from this, that notion does not look like changing any time soon.


For more information, go to CP United FC's website, Facebook, Instagram or X (Twitter).


By Oliver Walker-Peel. All photos are supplied by CP United FC.