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The Launch Of The Women’s National Team Ends A Four Year Wait For Clarke

It’s all smiles for Shelbee - Image: Jake Kirkman

Writes: Sam Seddon-Davies

Shelbee Clarke joined EAFA in 2019 and has been the only female player ever since, however, times are changing as the Women’s National Team begins.

Clarke has been an amputee for five years after a cancer she was diagnosed with at 18 years old had returned. Now, at 29 years old, she is one of the leading faces of the new EAFA Women’s National Team.

Reflecting on her journey with the charity, Clarke recalls how much amputee football helped her in the early stages of experiencing life with a disability.

“It’s been a traumatising 10 years and I’m still quite an early amputee but I’m getting there,” she said.

“I do miss playing football on two legs because that’s all I ever knew. I used to be really fast so I would be running up and down and I used to do all the sports I could do.

“It was definitely difficult making that transition but being bed-bound for nearly three years and not being able to move or go anywhere - to discover amputee football afterwards was such a relief because I was finally able to play again.”

Clarke found out about the sport during an annual trip with the Teenage Cancer Trust to Centre Parcs (UK holiday resort).

It was there she met former England goalkeeper Gary Marheineke and Portsmouth’s Ray Westbrook demonstrating football on crutches, so as soon as she had her amputation, it was the clear route to take.

At the time, Clarke was the only female senior player at EAFA and made history for Peterborough when she came off the bench in the FA Disability Cup final.

Clarke in action for Chelsea - Image: Jake Kirkman

The midfielder now plays for Chelsea in the EAFA League, and recently sharing the field with women has been a change for Clarke.

“I love training with the guys because they push me,” she said.

“I don’t care if I’m a girl and you’re a big, horrible bloke, I’m going to smash you in the shins and get the ball.

“The men do get competitive, and they get snappy with each other. Even though we were competing, if one of us women scored, we are all buzzing for each other.

“We were all pumped and raring to go and I think that's going to be the driving force for this team.“

The women’s squad is still growing with over 10 girls expected at this weekend’s launch (Saturday 18 November), with players stepping into amputee football for the first time.

Clarke says it’s the family environment she walked into in 2019 that she wants to replicate for the new group, she said: “I got put straight under everybody’s wing when I joined,”

“All the lads are a big family, and I was like the little sister that came in that they had to protect.

“That’s why I can’t wait to hopefully bring that same attitude into the Women’s team so they are comfortable in the way I was comfortable, that they love it as much as I loved it and can make the transition."

Members of the current squad also feature in the EAFA junior programme and Clarke hopes that this is something that can only benefit the future of women’s amputee football as they look to inspire.

“We’ve got a girl who’s just the cutest little thing and she just looked up at me amazed because they hadn’t had any female coaches yet, and being an amputee as well she was just in awe.

“I feel like that’s where experience comes in handy because you pass that knowledge on and hopefully Ava, Marnie and Annabelle - who are in their teens - with our tiny ones, inspire the next crop.”

Clark continued: “I want our team and our representation of us being amputees to show little girls and boys that if you put your mind to something you can achieve it - being able to play football for your country is a massive accomplishment for anyone.

Clarke pictured alongside her teammates - Image: Jake Kirkman

At EAFA each individual has their own story and the ‘family’ environment is something that we strive to embed amongst all associated, and for Clarke it’s something that she admits has only supported her.

“I had a really tough patch not long ago where I was fed up with being in pain every day, being exhausted, and not being able to do the things I like doing, my back aching and my shoulders hurting.

“But as soon as I start playing football again, it takes me away from reality and keeps my mind busy on the stuff that I love, so it definitely helps.

“Being an amputee is not always the best. At age 21, I lost six friends over Christmas. There are days where you just don’t want to do it but to be able to pass on that knowledge and that experience, I wouldn’t change any of it.

“I think what we’re doing now is huge, not even just for football or women, but for people in general to know there are things out there for them because it does get lonely.

“I want the girls to grow up knowing what makes them awesome is their superpower of having an amputation.”

This time next year, the World Amputee Football Federation (WAFF) will be hosting the first-ever Amputee Women’s World Cup in Colombia, this comes after the first Women’s International Amputee match in history took place between Poland and USA in September.

“I’m excited because this could be the start of something huge,” Clarke said speaking about the exciting news.

“With the players we’ve already got, I think that foundation alone is quality.

“I do not doubt for one minute that we are going to make a splash within the amputee world.”


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