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By Disabled People for Disabled People

Friday, 30 June, 2023

Leon Taylor was born with Cerebral palsy — By CFJ Student Connor Law

Leon Taylor was born with Cerebral Palsy, which predominantly affects the right side of his body. Despite this, Leon has managed to overcome the challenges which his disability presented and has achieved various life ambitions. A highlight being his association with the England Cerebral Palsy Football Team. Leon was the teams goalkeeper from 2003-2011.

Leon’s sports career highlights include playing in the Cerebral Palsy World Cup and the Cerebral Palsy World Championship. In addition, Leon was also selected for the Great Britain Team and competed in the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008, where they managed to finish in 7th place overall. 

Leon also won the Derby Disabled Sports Person of the Year Award in 2008 & 2009 and the Sports Person of the Year Award in 2011. Up until his retirement, Leon was also the Player Representative on the National Cerebral Palsy League committee.

Outside of his long and successful sports career, Leon is also the patron of Hemi Hearts, a support group that aims to support children and families with Hemiplegia (a form of Cerebral Palsy).

Leon now works as a Community Engagement Officer for Disability Direct, which is a user lead charity based in Derby England, which aims to support people living with disabilities who live in surrounding areas

When Leon was asked about his childhood and the difficulties of growing up with cerebral palsy, Leon said “Yeah, so I was born quite a long time ago 1975 so I’m 48. When I was being born there was quite a lot of brain trauma and it led to a starvation of oxygen and that’s why I ended up with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is very much like a stroke in later life. It’s a scarring on the brain. That happened as part of the traumatic birth. But I wasn’t diagnosed until I was about one and a half, maybe a little bit older and it was only when I was really struggling and couldn’t get my balance and stand up. They thought it might be a problem, so I was referred to a specialist who diagnosed me with cerebral palsy. So that’s how it all began. In terms of my childhood, my mum and dad had myself and then my younger brother Paul who’s 3 years younger than me. But they actually separated when I was about 4 years of age and they divorced and remarried quite soon after that. So for a majority of my childhood I lived with my mum and my stepdad. They brought me up and we moved all over the Derby area. So I’m Darby Born and Bred. We lived in different places within the city and the surrounding area. I went to mainstream school and I fortunately made good friendships when I first started school. In fact two of them, I’m still friends with now. So they were obviously friends for Life. But going to secondary school was much harder, I was picked on both verbally and physically because of my disability which wasn’t particularly pleasant. But I got through it. I think what it actually did is knock my self confidence and my self esteem. I wanted to do things in life and I wasn’t gonna let the bullies win, so to speak. So I’ll say that gives you a bit of a flavour of me growing up with a disability, I suppose.”

When Leon was asked how he got started playing sports and when did he decide to start playing in leagues. Leon replied “I’ve always loved sports but throughout school. I never got picked for the school teams. You know I was never quite good enough, but I’ve always played quite a lot of badminton. I also love football as well and so when I left college and went to university. I played a bit of football recreationally and that was as far as it went. Then one day I was in my lunch hour at work and there was an advert on the football association’s website saying that David Seaman was retiring as England’s goalkeeper. 

Cerebral palsy team were also looking for a goalkeeper and to get in touch if you’re Interested in a trial. I thought well. I’ve got cerebral palsy. I’ve played a bit of football. I’ve played in goals recreationally. I’ll give this a go so I went along to a trial that lasted for the weekend and I must have impressed them. They invited me back and then 3 months later, I was making my debut for England playing in Argentina in the cerebral palsy World Cup. I made my debut against Ukraine who were then and still are the world and European champions in cerebral palsy football. so it was quite a start to my football journey. Really my only regret is that I was 28 when I found out about the opportunities that existed. So obviously you know if I’d found out when I was younger then I could have had more years at it. But I also say to young people now. I make them aware of all the opportunities in terms of disability sport. I’ve worked quite a lot in the community in that sense. So I’m always telling people you know you need to inquire about what’s out there in order so that they can maximise their amount of time that they can be playing their favourite Sport.”

When asked what was it like to play for Britain in the paralympics in Beijing in 2008. Leon stated “Quite amazing really. I was very lucky with football. I travelled with England to China.I also played in  America and in Australia as well in different tournaments as well as playing football close to home in Europe. But the Pinnacle was getting selected for Beijing Olympics. In terms of the whole squad, we competed in 18 sports. There were 20 sports and Great Britain competed in 18. We had a squad of just over 200 across all the sports and I was the only person from my city of Derby to compete, so I felt really honoured to have that opportunity. But everything about that trip was just absolutely incredible, from singing a national anthem before you’re playing games to the opportunity to meet people from across the world. I was just absolutely fascinated and I say to people when they asked I say it’s the one time in my life Where actually if you were able-bodied you were sort of unusual because a vast majority of people in that paralympic village had a disability so it was almost like a reversal of general life. So yeah, just an amazing time I felt very honoured and very proud to represent my country.”

When Leon was asked to describe his experience as a player representative for the National Cerebral Palsy League committee. Leon replied “Yeah sure so basically the there is a a National League and there are teams from the different regions of England. So there’s a north west team. There’s a Yorkshire team and then we were in Derby sort of representing the East Midlands but there was a committee that ran the league and they had a player rep to get the perspective of players so I was nominated and selected to do that. It was really, really interesting because there were people on the committee talking.about how well the league’s going but then to be able to give that perspective of what it’s like from a player’s point of view. We talked about things like changing facilities and whether they were appropriate and how far it was from the changing facilities to the pitches and some more of the practical things, as well as playing football. It was an opportunity to sort of be the voice of the players on that committee. So I thoroughly enjoyed it and like I said it was a real opportunity as well to make sure the things that matter to the players were conveyed to the committee.”

When asked about why he became involved in the support group Hemi Hearts. Leon commented “yeah, this was a group that set up locally in Derby and there was an article  in my local newspaper the Derby Telegraph and it was all about what they were doing as a group and how they were looking for new members. So I approached them because I thought I’ve got the same type of cerebral palsy the group members have got, but they were children. So they got hemi pilegia which I have too, which l predominantly affects one side of the body. So for me, I went along to the group and I did a little bit of a talk about the Paralympics and other things that I’ve done and they then asked if I would be interested in being a patron for the group you know give them prospective from an adult with the same condition. I said it’d be delighted to do that and then that sort of led me to sort of being involved with the group and then they would have a meeting of all the children once a month. As part of that, I will be there to answer any questions that the parents might have about how the condition affects the children and what things I did to overcome some difficulties. So it’s an opportunity to have a dialogue and so somebody that lives with the condition is able to speak to parents of children With it in terms of what they should expect when they get older and what I did to get around issues like tying shoelaces to doing buttons and things like that. So I’ve really enjoyed that. The the group sort of suspended its activities for covid and it’s just now starting to get itself back up and running again. They’re looking for new members again, so I think you know I’m gonna be helping them with the push on that because some of the children have grown up now and they’re looking for new younger people again.”

When asked about his experience as a community engagement officer for Disability Direct, Leon stated “I’ve been aware of it for many years and so It has its 30th anniversary this year, so we’ve got some celebrations to come. But I’ll just say I’ve known about them and in the past. I’ve gone in and I’ve delivered talks about my football and living with cerebral palsy and things like that. Then earlier this year an opportunity rose to do some voluntary work for them and I was I think you’d call it in between jobs, but yes I got some spare time. So I thought I will get involved sort of volunteering for the charity. I did that for two or three months and then they offered me some paid work as a community engagement officer. I’ve been doing that for a little while now and basically my role is to go out and see vulnerable people that may be elderly or they may be younger with a disability and they perhaps be finding a life to be a little bit of a challenge and it’s helping them. It might be that they need help actually on practical things like getting shopping for them or getting medications for them, but sometimes it’s about having a chat with them. Just listening to what they’re saying instead of answering questions and seeing how I can help so I suppose it sort of fits in with the way that I am as a person. I like helping people and so it’s another opportunity for me to be out there in the community helping people to get through the difficult times I suppose.”

When asked what he likes to do for fun, Leon said “I did a politics degree so I have a love of current affairs so I like a lot of current affairs first programs. I like to keep abreast of the news. I don’t know if you call that fun. If you want to call it genuine fun then I like music. I listen to music a lot and my favourite artist the Pet Shop Boys who are still going some 40 years since they first formed. I’ve seen them a lot in concert. I just love listening to music and going to concerts. I suppose that’s how I have my downtime and how I have a bit of fun.”

When asked about his day to day life as well as his family life, Leon said “So I’ve got three children. Previously, I was married for over 20 years. We separated around 4 years ago. My oldest child, she’s at university up in Manchester studying psychology. My middle one, she’s doing her GCSEs  and is right in the middle of them at the moment and my youngest son is 12. Although I don’t live with them, I spend a lot of time with them and doing different things. Michael is following in my footsteps in terms of football. He’s a goalkeeper and he plays regularly and I end up trying to take him to games all over the place to play football. But it’s great to have that opportunity. I genuinely love spending time with my children and at the moment, I feel like I’ve got quite a good balance because I’m working part-time so I work 3 days a week and then it gives me some time to spend with my children. I’ve got a new partner now as well. So obviously I like to spend time with her and her children too. So I think I’ve got quite a good work life balance going off at the moment.”

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