A businessman has dug deep to finance amputee footballer Gary Marheineke’s trip to play for England at the sport’s World Cup in Mexico in November.
Single-armed goalkeeper Gary, 30, of Upwood, was introduced to the sport by Andy Coles, the football development officer at Huntingdonshire FA, and the pair met up with Colin Medwynter of Peterborough-based Focus Publishing when the England squad trained at St Ives One Leisure on Saturday.
With the sport seriously underfunded by the national FA, Mr Coles organised for Hunts FA to pay for the training session at the Outdoor Centre while Mr Medwynter, father of Huntingdon Town footballers Ollie and Louie, pledged to cover Gary’s World Cup expenses with a £2,000 donation.
“Representing your country at any sport is a major achievement, the levels of commitment are huge as these guys need and want to be at the top of their game,” said Mr Medwynter.
“The thought of any of these guys not being able to take part due to lack of funding is a crying shame. There is so much money in mainstream football, stupid amounts in fact, it’s nothing short of embarrassing that these guys get nothing from the FA.”
England is one of the few European countries to take part in the sport.
Most teams taking part in the Copa Mundial will be from countries where players have lost limbs in conflicts. Outfield players must have one leg and play on crutches while goalkeepers have one arm. The games are seven-a-side and played over two 20-minute halves.
In Britain, participation is not always encouraged by a medical profession which sees the use of prosthetic limbs as the way forward for disability sport.
Mr Coles added: “We were asked as a regional FA if we could help them out with a venue for training because this area suits everyone with players based in the north and south.
“The squad has to self-fund, so we were more than happy to help out.
“And the head groundsman here, Rob Bradshaw, organised refreshments and made everyone feel really welcome.”
Gary, who is the brother of former Huntingdon Town manager Ricky, said: “Colin has been a massive supporter and identified that he could help out through his company Focus Publishing.
“It’s really hard to express how I feel.
“I saw a tweet from England player Jack Wilshere saying it was every boy’s dream to be selected to play at a World Cup and that’s the same for me.
“Whether we have one arm or one leg, we are talented footballers and it is great to be given the chance to live my dream.”
The trip to Mexico will cap off a remarkable year for Gary, who worked at Huntingdon Sainsbury’s before landing a role with Cambridge United, as he’s getting married in September to fiancée Alex Short.