England CP football and Inspire Suffolk star Bailey Fleming aiming for 2020 Tokyo Paralympics
- Credit: Su Anderson
Playing alongside him, Bailey Fleming seems just like any other young footballer: not afraid of a tough challenge, quick-footed, strong on the ball, an intelligent passer, keen to express himself – and perfectively able of finding the bottom corner from a mile out.
During the two-on-two match at Inspire Suffolk, where he is studying to become a sports coach, the Ipswich youngster displayed no signs that he has a disability.
But, in fact, the 20-year-old was born with cerebral palsy (CP).
The condition affects the movement of his right arm and hand, but has not stopped him from realising his lifelong dream of representing his country – playing for the England CP side.
“I kicked a football from five and wanted to play all my life,” he said.
“But I didn’t get into CP until I was 16. I was playing mainstream football until then. I still play it now (he trains with Henley Town Football Club).
“I was always aware of the Paralympic option but we didn’t really know anything about CP football until my dad read up on it.”
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We ended up losing the friendly match, but he remains affable, funny, full-of-life and someone clearly well-liked by everyone.
But some footballers chose to ignore his spirited nature growing up.
“When I played mainstream football, some did accept me, and some didn’t. Some used to give me stick but I used to just take it. It didn’t matter to me, really. I have got to live with it (CP),” he said.
“I was prepared for it. I knew it was coming. I just stuck with playing football.”
He added: “I don’t think there is any difference between the mainstream and CP players, really.
“It is just a bit of weakness on one side of the body. I still put in full-blooded challenges, and the standards are always rising.”
Bailey, who was born with hemiplegia on his right side, joined the England CP setup in 2012 after being scouted in Braintree, where he grew up after being born in Dagenham. His family moved to the Henley area of Ipswich two years ago.
He has since taken part in two international tournaments.
“Putting on the England shirt for the first time felt amazing,” he said. “It was such an honour.”
In his latest international call-up in Dublin two weeks ago, the centre-back helped England CP defeat Denmark (5-0), Ireland (4-0) and Italy (7-0). He even scored a goal on his birthday – a penalty against Italy – making it about five in total.
“This Italian goalkeeper was massive and was as wide as anything,” he explained.
“But I thought ‘I’m not going to look at him’.
“I just picked my spot and it went in the top corner. He dived the same way and still didn’t get it.”
Bailey is the only current England CP player from Suffolk and will be supporting Team GB at the Rio Paralympics this summer from home – while he targets the 2020 Paralympics.
He added: “It would be absolutely amazing playing in Tokyo.”