Alistair Patrick-Heselton: Battling the Brazilians, and Paralympic politics

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ALISTAIR Patrick-Heselton is enjoying the best year of his footballing life, and after helping Great Britain to silver at last month’s Paralympic World Cup, he says he is determined to go one better and win gold at London 2012.

The 28-year-old scored twice as GB’s seven-a-side cerebral palsy team went all the way in Manchester, beating the USA 7-0 and the Republic of Ireland 7-3 on their way to facing Brazil in the gold medal final.

The two teams had met earlier in the competition, and the South Americans came out on top again as they won 4-2 at the Manchester Regional Arena. And that final disappointment has inspired Patrick-Heselton to come back stronger this September when Great Britain get the chance for revenge as they take on the Brazilians again in their first match of the Paralympics.

However, off the field, Patrick-Heselton faces constant criticism over his suitability to play, despite being a long-established member of both the England and GB cerebral palsy squads.

With only one CP8 classified player allowed on the pitch at any one time, the former professional footballer often finds himself restricted to cameo appearances from the substitutes’ bench, but he usually makes a telling impact when he does come on.

Given the extent of the head injuries he suffered in a car crash in 2006, the former QPR trainee does have a case to be considered as a CP6 player, but given his talents on the football pitch, some nations object to him being involved at all, meaning he must make do with his current classification.

He said his role in the team can leave him very frustrated at times, but when it comes to the Paralympics, he’s just happy to be involved and doing his bit in the hosts’ bid for glory.

“We’ll argue about it after I’ve got a gold medal wrapped around my neck,” said Patrick-Heselton. “There won’t be a hissy fit from me.

“It does bother me, but whatever my role in the team is, I’ll enjoy it and do my best when I do get a chance.

“The most important thing is that we win gold, and if the team is better off with me coming off the bench then that’s fine.”

The Paralympics competition sees the best eight countries in the world do battle on the hockey pitches of the Olympic Park in Stratford, and Patrick-Heselton thinks his side have a good chance of success, despite the fact that they will have to beat some of their full-time professional rivals along the way.

“I thought we could have won gold in Manchester,” he said. “But that’s all over now and it’s about getting as fit as I can before the first game on September 1.

“The top two teams in the two groups go through to the semi finals and we’re in a tough group, including Ukraine who are ranked second in the world, behind Russia who we could face later.

“But we have a really talented squad and hopefully we can go all the way. It’s so exciting to represent your country in these big competitions and I hope we can bring home the gold.”

Despite the ‘political’ wrangling that he must endure, Patrick-Heselton remains a very dignified man, and is keen to lend his words of wisdom with the next generation of potential Team GB stars, visiting schools and giving motivational talks on the benefits of healthy living.

His exploits in sport have seen him win a lot of friends, and he’s ever been rubbing shoulders with footballing royalty like David Beckham and Rio Ferdinand through the Jaguar Academy of Sport which aims to recognise and inspire the sporting stars of the future by giving them the chance to work with the leading sportsmen and women of today.

And as he begins an intense fitness schedule in the lead-up to London 2012 – which includes a warm-weather training camp in Portugal – Patrick-Heselton has also received support a little closer to home from the Sweatshop in Milton Keynes who have fitted him into some top of the range running shoes for his many hours on the treadmill.

Whatever happens in September, the experience of representing his country on the biggest stage of all is one that Patrick-Heselton will cherish forever, and certainly not take for granted.