The nation’s best young paralympic footballers will gather in Sydney this coming week to compete in the 2018 National CP 7-Aside Football Championships. The tournament features Paralympic football teams from five states including NSW, Victoria, ACT, WA and Queensland, all vying for the Australian title, as well as showcasing some of the up and coming, but also current Pararoos.
Representing Victoria at the tournament will be four young Greek Australian footballers from Melbourne: keeper Christian Tsingas, defender Con Christodoulou, 15-year-old forward Christian Bitsikas and Michael Prapas.
Tsingas and Christodoulou have previously made the Pararoos squad, but for 17-year-old winger Prapas, it’s his first ever selection in the Victorian Paralympic football team.
“My selection was a bit of a pleasant surprise,” he said, speking to Neos Kosmos in the week prior to the tournament.
“Our teams are based on a player classification system. I knew that I had improved a fair bit this year, but didn’t know how I would go against any of my teammates classified the same as me. I wanted this so bad, so my effort and my determination all year has been to get here.
“Every soccer player dreams about representing their country. Being selected for Victoria is a big reward for all the effort I have put in over the years. There is more I can do and will do to keep improving. I hope I can follow in my teammates’ footsteps into the Pararoos one day.”
Whilst Prapas now stands on the verge of making his debut on the national stage, his football journey began nine years ago, when as an eight-year-old, he joined an Auskick program. After struggling along for a frustrating couple of years, trying to learn the fundamentals of the game, his interest and skills flourished after his best friend suggested he join Spring Hill FC, whose supportive environment allowed him to develop his game. He also discovered the thrill of competition.
“Playing games against other teams gave me the passion I needed,” he says.
Prapas is a keen sportsperson in general.
“I don’t think there is a sport that I don’t like,” he says. “I have run for my schools in athletics (the 100 m) and I also like to swim weekly. It helps me recover from soccer training and helps stretch and relax my tight muscles, due to my CP [Cerebral Palsy].”
But playing soccer, in particular, gives him great enjoyment and satisfaction. And over the course of his journey thus far, playing the sport has taught him valuable life lessons.
“Soccer allows me to be myself,” he says. “It has allowed me to learn about my disability and know that there are others around me that feel the same. The game has taught me that there are no boundaries, no restrictions and never to give up on our dreams. We learn from each other not just about the game, but also about life.”
Understandably, for someone about to make his debut for his state in the National Championships, Prapas says he’s looking forward to the tournament with a mixture of excitement and nervousness.
“I am excited at the opportunity of playing and at the same time a bit scared and nervous because for me it’s a big stage. A lot is at stake. I don’t want to let my team down. I am hoping to learn a lot by watching the current crop of players going around and note what I need to do to get better than them.”
Michael’s father, George says that the clubs Michael has been associated with, Spring Hills and Northcote City, as well as the FFV have been very supportive in his son’s development as a player.
“Spring Hills and Northcote City have been so understanding, so caring, so inclusive in their efforts to allow Michael to play a game he loves,” he says.
“As have all the clubs he has played against. The many coaches have worked within his physical boundaries – and sometimes not, which is a good thing – to train him and push him to develop his skills and knowledge of the game. Northcote City has embraced its All-Abilities program with total commitment and I believe everyone who has helped or become involved with this team – management, coaches and players – have benefited in some way. Hard to describe it. They have sensed something special, something motivational, by watching these players, some as young as five, who struggle in their daily lives, give their all on the pitch, at training or in games, playing a sport they love, smiling and having fun.
“The FFV has pushed this All-Abilities program to the next level with supporting and encouraging other clubs to set up a sporting avenue for any players who want to play soccer. The road is now there (for soccer loving players with CP, symptoms of stroke or acquired brain injury) to represent their country (via the Pararoos), something all sports people want to do. As parents, helpers and coaches, all we want to see is our kids do their best and succeed at whatever they choose to do in life.”
The Victorian Paralympic State team is currently campaigning to raise funds to help the team go to the Nationals in Sydney. Anyone wanting to support can assist via: www.gofundme.com/VicParalympicStateTeam-SendUstoNationals