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Albion in the Community’s autism football sessions have helped a Seagulls fan discover his confidence

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Like many young children, Finley Forsyth was eager to lace up his football boots and play for his local team. However, the budding footballer soon encountered a stumbling block.

The nine-year-old player with autism struggled to feel accepted within mainstream football. In previous sessions, Finley often felt alienated from the group and this sense of isolation was reflected in his lack of confidence.

Nevertheless, this all changed when he was introduced to Albion in the Community’s (AITC) autism-specific sessions, which is where he found his footballing home.

Finley first became involved with the charity in September 2019 and took part in the weekly football sessions. As his confidence started to improve, our face-to-face sessions came to a grinding halt as the country was plunged into lockdown.

Despite this sudden change to life as we knew it, Finley embraced the switch to online communications, as he attended 25 Zoom sessions since March 2020.

“We have seen Finley continue to grow in confidence since he first joined AITC, having had very mixed experiences in ‘mainstream’ football,” AITC’s disability manager Paul Brackley explained.

“We were delighted that he continued to engage with our activities when we had to switch to virtual delivery and even more so that it seemed to give him a new sense of confidence.”

Alongside the weekly online meetings, he also joined a Q&A with some Brighton & Hove Albion players and also a ‘Match of the Day’ Zoom session. Furthermore, the young footballer was nominated to be a virtual mascot for a Women’s Super League fixture between the Albion and Tottenham.

Coaches have noted how his social skills have improved and Brackley revealed how his confidence has skyrocketed over the course of lockdown.

“When our team offered the opportunity for some of our players to run the warm-up on our Zoom sessions, Finley was one of the first to volunteer and did a brilliant job; he also asked questions during our Q&A with Tariq Lamptey and Cecile Friskerstrand and frequently contributed during our Zoom social sessions.”

As the charity returned to face-to-face delivery, Finley managed to bring his online enthusiasm into the in-person sessions. Brackley explained how Finley has emerged as a popular and integral member of the group, which highlights his significant personal development since joining the charity.

At AITC’s play on the pitch event in May, Finley’s father Steve spoke positively about the autism-specific sessions and the impact the charity has had on his son.

“It’s been a really positive experience, it’s really inclusive and Finley loves it. It’s something that he looks forward to doing and it’s an experience he wouldn’t normally get from club football.”

He later added: “The support from Albion in the Community has been excellent, they’ve really gone above and beyond.”

During his time with AITC, Finley has discovered his confidence and has also developed his adoration for football. His sheer love of the game can be summarised by one story told by his mother.

She revealed that Finley woke up incredibly early prior to an autism football session and even got changed three times before the Forsyth family left the front door.

For more information about AITC’s autism football sessions, please contact: disability@albioninthecommunity.org.uk or visit albioninthecommunity.org.uk.

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