England blind footballer bangs the drum for para sport

Roy Turnham representing England at the Blind World Cup (Credit: Kenny Brown)

Multi-talented Roy Turnham knows the dual career score – as a gigging musician and international footballer. 

He’s a real-life Roy of the Rovers who dreams of the day he shares a stage with the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl. When England blind football international Roy Turnham isn’t banging in the goals for his country at the World Cup he’s most likely bashing out the latest rock anthems at the local club. When it comes to the dual career approach, it seems Turnham has turned it into an art form.

“There are so many transferable skills when it comes to sport and music,” said the elite footballer and expert drummer. “They both require a hell of a lot of focus and perseverance. In both, I find myself practising the same thing over and over again until I get it right.

“Although musicians are not always renowned for it, being physically fit and healthy definitely helps – especially when you’re belting out heavy rock drums under the heat of the lights in a sweaty club!”

Turnham starred for England at this summer’s Blind World Cup in Spain after emerging as a key member of Paralympics GB’s London 2012 squad. But the decision to focus on football has often dictated that music plays second fiddle to sport.

“I have frequently had to make big decisions concerning the two,” he added. “I turned down priority auditions on The Voice, Britain’s Got Talent and the second series of All Together Now because of clashes with England and GB commitments.

“Whilst I will always be active in music, I have made football my main career focus for now. This may change once the body starts telling me a different story!”

And Turnham has never been in a better position to keep himself fit and focused as one of several footballers able to access athlete support thanks to a partnership between TASS and the FA. The Chelsea fan is a regular visitor to the TASS services at Liverpool John Moores University and is already reaping the rewards.

Roy Turnham in action against Poland (Credit: Royal National College for the Blind)

“Whenever I’ve been at my best for a tournament, it’s always been off the back of a sound strength and conditioning programme,” he added. “The support that TASS is currently providing me in this area will be essential for my future performance. Six weeks ago I sustained a knee injury which required surgery. Thanks to Nina and Connor – my TASS physio and S&C coach – my rehabilitation has been so good that I’m back playing two weeks ahead of schedule!

“So far I’ve found the TASS hub very accessible and the staff have been great. I would describe it as calm and friendly but very focused – although some of the music being played in the gym is pretty terrible!”

Music has always provided Turnham with a release from the rigours of elite football but it could also provide a crucial career pathway when it’s finally time to hang up the boots. Keeping his options open is the only way.

“I’m a big fan of the whole dual career approach,” he added. “It’s crucial for several reasons. During a career as an elite athlete you need things that keep you occupied in the down-time between sessions and matches. These things – like music in my case – also help to keep you mentally healthy during the tough times when you suffer injuries or experience losses.

“We all have to accept that we have a certain shelf-life at the top level and it’s important to have things in place for life after competitive sport.”

England and Paralympics GB fans will be hoping that time is some way off as Turnham turns his attention to a European campaign and the carrot of Paralympic qualification in less than two years’ time. Disappointment at this summer’s Blind World Cup has only fuelled a determination to turn potential into proven success.

“It’s always amazing to be representing England and GB at the highest level,” added Turnham. “But the World Cup was tough. We narrowly lost on penalties to Argentina in the quarter-finals which was both frustrating – as we lost yet another shoot-out – and also positive in that we pushed the world number one ranked team all the way. Personally, it was a battle to stay fit throughout as three weeks earlier I partially tore a tendon in my heel.

“But in hindsight I feel that the current squad is on the verge of something big and we can beat anyone on our day. Plus, in the 7th/8thplace play-offs at the World Cup we managed to break our hoodoo in penalty shoot-outs and win! Hopefully this bodes well for the future.

“Right now the mood in the camp is incredibly positive. There is more togetherness than I’ve ever known and we’ve really hit the ground running after the World Cup in terms of energy and fitness levels.

“I believe we will be serious challengers at all of the major tournaments and I’m confident we will qualify for Japan. But I’m not even thinking past the Euros next year – without a strong performance in those matches then Tokyo 2020 doesn’t matter.”

 Roy Turnham representing England at the Blind World Cup (Credit: Kenny Brown)

Turnham’s dedication to his sport and determination to overcome his partial sight makes him a popular figure on the local school circuit and a key ambassador at a time when blind football is actively seeking its share of commercial opportunities and media profile. Children are inspired by his story and adults inspired to act as they witness sport’s true power personified.

“Despite playing football since the age of four, I only started playing blind football competitively in my early 20s,” added Turnham. “It was only then that a national league for blind football was set up and I was fortunate that Everton, my local club, entered a team.

“I love the freedom that blind football gives you. I was previously a middle distance runner where I would always have to run races with a sighted guide.

“Everything you do as a blind footballer is physically independent. For a blind person it is the most challenging sport available in terms of spatial awareness, contact, and multi-directional movement.

“The sport is growing but it still needs a lot of work in relation to publicity and awareness of how to coach it properly in many areas of the country. Having said that, we do have some exciting young prospects just breaking into the national league and the GB set-up.

“I feel that the biggest challenge to its growth is the general lack of understanding amongst teachers and coaches in how to coach quality fundamental movement skills to blind people. Without these skills the sport becomes very inaccessible.”

As Turnham has proved, with those skills the whole world becomes accessible. And as Grohl would say, This Is A Call.