Former Perry Street player Matt Oaten hopes his involvement representing England at the European Deaf Championships in Greece in June acts as an inspiration for more players to come forward and build their own future in disability football.
Matt was part of the squad representing the Three Lions in Crete as they finished high enough to qualify for the World Cup in South Korea in 2020. His own pathway started with the Billericay-based club and he has some clear advice for any other hearing-impaired footballers.
“I hope other deaf footballers out there see myself and the lads on the England team as role models,” he said. “It shows that, just because we're deaf, it doesn't mean we can't do anything. Face all of the barriers in life and keep working hard and you'll achieve your dreams without a doubt.”
Of the 16 nations, England were joined in Group D by Ukraine, Sweden and France. They lost 3-1 against eventual winners Ukraine but beat Sweden 2-0 and overcame France 1-0 to qualify from the group. Unfortunately, in the Quarter-Finals, England were defeated 4-3 on penalties to Germany after a goalless draw, then they went down 2-0 in a positional play-off against Turkey.
However, they beat Italy 4-2 on penalties following a 2-2 draw after extra time to finish seventh. Matt described: “We came to this tournament with the aim of making the top eight to qualify for the World Cup in South Korea in 2020 and we achieved that! With the squad we had, we definitely could have gone all the way, I believe. We were so unlucky against Germany.”
Wearing the number three shirt, it was the Italy game when Matt made his international debut. He continued: “We all wanted to finish with a win and finish on a high. Before the game I was nervous but, at the same time, I was excited to show what I could do. I started at right-back, my usual position, and it was probably one of the hottest spells of the whole time we were there.”
“It affected the game a lot. We had to use our heads to cope with the heat and England dominated. I thought I had a great game. The team held our heads up high because we gave everything we had, and we should feel proud. It was a massive learning curve for me playing at international level and this experience will definitely help me improve as a player.”
He’s now aiming to build on his achievements at future training camps and matches: “We usually meet once a month for a training weekend, and this can be all over the country. We've previously trained in Great Yarmouth, Blackpool, Wigan and Surrey. Usually we get together on Fridays, then on Saturdays it would be a full-on day of training on the pitch.”
“Some of it would be off the pitch, doing video analysis. Then, on Sundays, we would have a match and we’d try and implement what we've been training on during Saturday into the game. It's not easy for us, as we only had a short amount of time together to prepare for the Euros. But we were out there for just over two weeks and everything turned out to be really smooth.”
“The facilities at Crete were amazing - the training and match pitches and everything were world class. Some of the lads who have played at major tournaments in the past said they were amongst the best they've ever played at. The first game was surreal, even though I didn't play. The pitch was beautiful, and it reminded me that all the hard work was worth it to be on the big stage.”
“I have always loved playing football all my life. My parents encouraged me to join a local club when I was about nine years old, so I joined Perry Street FC and was with them for so long. They helped me become the player I am now. I was really proud to represent Essex at an international level. Hopefully there will be more to come!”
If you’d like to find out more about participating in grassroots Essex football, browse the menus above, follow @EssexCountyFA on Twitter and search for ‘EssexFootball’ on Facebook.