OFF the back of a successful Denmark tour, the Pararoos’ youngest players are ready to give other countries a run for their money.
The Pararoos, the national football team for people with Cerebral Palsy (CP), brain injury and stroke, qualified for the 2017 World Championships in Argentina with a 2-0 win over Spain after missing out on the Rio Paralympics.
Playing wing and striker, youngest Pararoo Balcatta’s Alessandro La Verghetta (15) said he was excited to represent Australia at such a young age.
“Some of the guys we play with are 38 years old and it’s my first year playing with the team,” he said.
“The guys I’ve met… it is inspirational to see how they cope with their disabilities and it reflects on how I cope with mine.”
But it has not always been an easy journey for Alessandro, who was diagnosed with CP when he was born.
“Sometimes it has been a struggle to be accepted by others; playing general soccer it is sometimes a struggle,” mother Josephine La Verghetta said.
Nick Prescott (16), of Tapping, diagnosed with CP aged two, made two assists that helped the team win the qualifier.
“It was crazy being on the pitch at that final whistle; there was no other option but to win because if we lost it meant we wouldn’t qualify,” Nick said.
“With the Pararoos, you’re with people who have similar stories to you and some even worse off; it’s good to be in an environment where people understand you.
“You can’t have the same conversations with able-bodied friends sometimes.”
Despite the winning streak, the Australian Sports Commission cut funding in 2014 as part of its Winning Edge program, which bases funding on a likely medal tally. The team rallied together after the news and managed to raise $160,000 for the Denmark tour.
“We have to go door-knocking and get sponsorships,” WA Men’s Pararoos coach Goran Stajic said.
“You can imagine all these young men around Australia and how difficult that was for them; it felt like it was all over.
“We haven’t got the funding like the other countries, so we really work hard.”
Stajic said the recent tour was a “whirlwind” for the two young hopefuls.
“For Nick and Alessandro, to be 15 and 16 years old and represent your country and the 700,000 people in Australia with a disability of some sort is an inspiration,” he said.
“They’ve never let CP get in the way; they are real athletes on the football field.”
The Pararoos will head to Argentina for the World Championships in September next year. To donate, visit www.asf.org.au/ organisation/football-federation-australia-limited.