Goalkeeper Alex Cossins hopes England call can bring Paralympic glory
A CREWKERNE footballer hopes earning England honours will be the next step towards achieving dreams of Paralympic glory.
Alex Cossins was born with cerebral palsy, a condition characterised by problems with movement, posture and co-ordination as a child grows up and caused by the abnormal development of brain tissue.
However, 20-year-old Cossins has refused to let his disability hinder his sporting ambitions, initially following in the footsteps of father Mike by playing in the Perry Street and District League.
As a teenager he was introduced to the South West cerebral palsy side and still trains once a week with the squad in Taunton. Cossins has also won under-19s England caps, starting life on the international scene as a midfielder before switching to keeper via a stint in defence.
Now too old for the junior set-up, Cossins has been named in his country's development squad and the opportunity to experience the £105M home of English football at St George's Park, officially opened just last month.
Cossins said: "The last time I went to St George's Park I was told it would be last time I was going because of my age. I am sort of in between squads at the moment but with a few good performances I could be in the first team.
"For someone to give me this opportunity is amazing. It has opened my eyes to just how good disability sport is. My dream is to go to the Paralympics in Brazil in 2016.
"After this year's Games in London a lot of people have been talking to me about disability sport and they are interested. It is important we get more people to notice just how good it is and make sure that people know how to get involved – even just watching – from a young age."
Co-ordinated by the Football Association and played to the organisation's standard rules, games are played between sides of seven players across two halves of 30 minutes.
The playing area is smaller than a standard pitch, as are the goal frames. There is no off-side rule and players can throw or roll the ball back into play when necessary.
As a student at Yeovil College, Cossins starred in the athletics arena, scooping top honours in javelin with a throw of 20.45m and finishing third in the 100m in 16.1 seconds at last year's Nationwide Junior Disability Athletics Championships.
But football now represents his prime sporting focus, as he looks to push himself at a standard he admitted took him by surprise.
"It has been really hard and the England squad took me by surprise," said Cossins. "Before I became involved all I knew was mainstream football and I thought it would be a fairly easy ride.
"But when I started training I knew it would be a challenge and the standard is really high. A lot of people don't realise how high a standard it is and a lot of the lads could play at a good level in the mainstream game.
"I've enjoyed every minute of it and I look forward to every training session. Going to a place like St George's Park is unreal and hopefully I will get to go there many more times."
Having already tasted Home Nations Cup glory with England's under-19s team, Cossins is hungry for more - starting with the full squad at next summer's European Championships.
He is also unlikely to take his current opportunity for granted, appreciating the work and effort required of him to compete at the highest level.
Cossins said: "I have been playing disability football for three years but before that played mainstream football in the Perry Street and District League with Hinton.
"One day I got a phone call for a trial with the South West, and I jumped at it. I started as a central midfielder, then went to central defence as we needed a defender and then ended in goal as we needed a keeper.
"My manager said I did well and could stay there. I thought nothing of it but then had a phone call when I was watching my dad play cricket for Barrington.
"It was from my coach saying the England manager was going to call me. I told him not to joke about it because as a kid you always want to play for your country no matter how and where it happens.
"I went to Scotland with the under-19s and we won the Home Nations competition and I have been involved ever since. We won it again in Belfast and now I am just looking to get my head down, train hard and hopefully get in the squad to travel to Spain next year."