Deaf Thamesmead striker Daniel Ailey shows courage to defy the odds

PUBLISHED: 17:02 23 September 2013 | UPDATED: 17:02 23 September 2013

Deaf footballer Daniel Ailey. Pic by David Brown

Deaf footballer Daniel Ailey. Pic by David Brown


Thamesmead Town’s Daniel Ailey is not your average semi-professional footballer.

The Thamesmead Town striker is completely deaf and he is one of the few people with the disability who plays in the mainstream paid ranks. Mead may play six levels below the hallowed turf of the Premier League but it is quite an achievement for someone who can’t shout for team-mates to pass him the ball.

But how does a player get by in a sport where communication is so important?

“I’m good at lipreading or you can write down instructions on a bit of paper before a game,” explains Daniel.

“My main way of communicating is by British Sign Language, but most people don’t know that so I make noises to alert them to where I am.”

Deaf football factbox

There are currently 25 active deaf football clubs in Britain

In 2011 deaf footballer Philip John Dolan was sent off in a Scottish youth match for playing on and scoring a goal when he was offside – because he couldn’t hear the referee’s whistle

Cliff Bastin, Arsenal’s top scorer until 1997, suffered increasing deafness during his career after a bout of flu

Other former professional footballers who had hearing problems include Jimmy Case, Rodney Marsh and Raymond Drake

As his manager Keith McMahon explains, if you’re good enough, you’re good enough. And he adds everyone can learn something from his courage and adaptability. He’s an inspiration.

“The way Daniel’s adapted himself has been amazing,” said Keith. “He always comes to training, his attitude is first class and his awareness is excellent. I’m sure it must be frustrating for him at times.

“Daniel’s got a lot of quality and that’s the most important thing as far as I’m concerned. His deafness is irrelevant.

“The difference is the other players can’t just shout to him to pass them the ball, they have to talk to his face. His team-mates have to adapt as well. They love him to death but they can forget about his disability on the pitch.”

While his team-mates and managers have always been supportive, not everyone within the game has been quite so welcoming.

An incident while playing for Potters Bar Town against Grays last season left him on the verge of quitting the game he loves.

A section of Grays fans mocked the grunts he makes to alert team-mates to his position. Of course, Daniel was the last to know he was the butt of a very cruel joke but the sounds became so loud and prolonged that the police were called.

His anguish was compounded when the boss of taxi firm Addison Lee John Griffin sent an email to a local newspaper comparing the sounds the player made to those of female tennis players.

“I nearly walked away from the game, but instead took a little time out,” admits Daniel.

“It was the lowest point of my life. I saw fans copying my gesture, such as waving for the ball, and I saw them pointing at their ears.

“But I love playing so I carried on. The abuse I suffered is the same as racism or homophobia and I’m not going to let them win.”

Despite all the obstacles he has faced, the 31-year-old always kept a positive frame of mind. As a teenager Daniel had trials for professional sides Doncaster Rovers and Barnet but they came to nothing.

Nonetheless, he has carved out a decent career in the semi-professional ranks with the likes of Enfield Town, Brentwood Town and Haringey Borough.

His manager is sure he would be in the professional ranks if he wasn’t deaf.

Keith said: “It would be a lie to say it doesn’t hinder him. He doesn’t wear a hearing aid. If someone calls for the ball from behind him he can’t hear them.

“We always make referees aware of his disability and in one game this season when Daniel came on as a substitute the opposing team thought we were time-wasting because I took the ref to one side!”

He added that Daniel should be an example to anyone who thinks about giving up. Keep an eye out for how Daniel and Thamesmead get on this season in the Bexley Times.

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