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Ross Eaglesham’s Sports Therapy Talents Recognised by Scottish Amputee Football

Ambitious Graduate Sports Therapist Ross Eaglesham has proved that persistence really does pay off. Ross is working with the Partick Thistle and Scottish National amputee football teams, following many speculative approaches to clubs and organisations to enquire about work opportunities. He has made great strides in a short space of time, working hard to develop his skills in injury prevention and management in disability sport, and the rewards are there to be seen. Ross recently travelled to Italy with the Scottish national amputee team for their first official international away match. Ross explains what it’s like to be part of the squad and the impact he is making as a Sports Therapist in amputee football.

How did your role come about with the Scottish National Amputee Football Team?

After graduating from Teesside University I contacted teams looking for a therapist to assist with their training and games. I was put in contact with the manager of the Partick Thistle FC amputee team, Kevin Kelly, who is also in charge of the Scotland set up. I spoke with Kevin at length about what I could offer the team and he offered me a position at Partick Thistle and Scotland.

How often do you see the players in the Scottish National team? What does your work with them entail?

Due to the participation levels in Scotland, the players get together around twice per month for training sessions. Work I carry out with the players is injury prevention, flexibility/mobility sessions, sports massage and pitch side first aid during matches. 

What are the main type of injuries and issues that affect amputee footballers?

Each player in the squad has a different story to tell regarding their amputation or limb deficiency. Common issues I deal with are muscular problems around the hip with the stress placed through the joint. Also after years of limb imbalances the players have also developed mild spinal curvatures such as scoliosis and this can make the muscles in the back very tight.

Surprisingly what caught me off guard was the shoulder and elbow injuries the players would develop through repetitive use on the crutches and the forces going through the upper body for the outfield players. It was something I hadn't considered but it is now a vital part of the injury prevention programmes and sessions I deliver.

Apart from the goalkeeper all the players are on crutches when they play – can you tell us a bit more about the rules of the game?

The matches are played in 7-a-side on a slightly smaller pitch for a duration of 50 minutes, (2 x 25mins). All outfield players must be on crutches with one lower limb deficiency and the keeper must have one upper limb deficiency and has legs. The matches are played just the same way as 'able bodied' football with fouls being given for aggressive play and so on, however there are no off sides. Handballs are given if the crutches are in an unnatural position, for example if the crutch is in the air or is moved towards the ball. Each team is also allowed one time-out per half due to the demanding nature of the game.

You recently played a match against the Italian national amputee side. How did you and the team prepare for the match, the first official international away game for the Scottish national team?

As a squad we had prepared well, we had weekly training sessions the month prior and one weekend training camp at the Sports Scotland Centre in Largs. In addition to this there was also the first ever competitive club match in Scotland between Partick Thistle and Dundee United on 29th April; this was invaluable game time experience for the players and was a chance for them to showcase their skills to be selected for the Scotland squad. The weekend in Largs was a great chance for the squad to prepare and get a good feeling for what amputee football in Scotland is all about.

Personally it was the first time I had been abroad with any team so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Staying in different hotels, the travel, meetings and team outings etc were all new to me and it’s something I embraced. I also had to sort my kit bag for taking away but this was fairly straightforward as we had plenty of luggage allowance.

Tell us a little bit about the experience of playing against the Italian side. What did you take away from the match?

The match was an unbelievable experience for the players and staff. It was a massive learning curve. The Italians have been going for 8-9 years now and we are fairly fresh to the sport having been going fully for around a year now with only one full international friendly being played prior. The Italians surprised us somewhat at how fast they were across the ground in comparison to our players leading them to score five goals within a 14 minute period which ultimately killed the game. As the Scotland team got settled we managed to contain them and keep good possession for spells in the game, creating a couple of chances but could not covert.

Looking at the game from a therapist’s point of view I could not have been happier as there were no injuries and the players looked strong in their crutches and dealt with trips and falls well. Also, the players had to contend with 28 degree heat which is an obstacle in itself, their hydration etc. was all spot on.

What is next for the team?

Since Italy we have had one session and a few new faces have been added to the set up. It’s also great to see the participation levels increase and there is a launch day at Spartans FC soon which will hopefully bring in a few players from Edinburgh. We have another training camp at Sports Scotland in Largs where we will be joined by England Development squad for a couple of training sessions and bounce games which will be a huge step in the right direction for the squad.

How important is it for Scottish Amputee Football to have the support of the Scottish Football Association?

To have the SFA back the Amputee Football Association Scotland it highlights how influential this sport can be within communities and it is a massive help to provide the players with the right kit, training facilities and so on. It gives the players a platform to work from and makes them really feel a part of the countries appreciation for football. The background work that goes into the AFAS set up is massive and to have the SFA’s support is incredible. I’m also sure it is one of the only football governing bodies to be supporting their amputee national team which is unreal.

What advice would you give to Society Members who are looking to work in disability sport?

Disability sport is something that is growing year by year as participation numbers increase and I’m sure they will require the work of therapists due to the demanding nature of the sports the players take part in. I am so grateful for the opportunity that AFAS has provided me with and the experience I have gained in the last 7-8 months has been unforgettable and it will only get better. I am ultimately representing my country as a Sports Therapist and that’s not something a lot of people can say. If there is ever a possibility to get involved with disability sport I would take that chance as it’s something you will not regret whilst learning something new every session, in what is an interesting field of sporting injury and prevention.

Take a look at Ross’s picture gallery below:

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