World-class 'football' inspiration

BURTON, England -- For most athletes, making a career out of playing a sport is rare, and, in the military, being able to play a match with a world-ranked team at one of the best soccer facilities in the U.K., is practically unheard of.

On Jan. 25, the Liberty Football Club was lucky enough to do just that.

The Liberty FC matched up against the world-ranked England Cerebral Palsy team at St. George's Park, home of England's 24 national teams. Cerebral Palsy, also known as CP, is the general term for a neurological condition that affects movement and coordination. For England CP, the condition doesn't keep them from bringing it on the pitch.

"What an experience," said Maj. Doug Grabowski, a forward for the Liberty FC. "This is a dream for probably every boy in England to come to St. George's Park to play. We were fortunate enough to get this opportunity, to come out here and see this beautiful facility. I'm overwhelmed by the experience."

The Liberty FC was offered this unique opportunity by Keith Webb, head coach of England's CP senior squad, to end his team's four-day training camp with a friendly competitive match against an American team.

The team has been training for the 2015 CP World Cup, which will be hosted by England at St. George's Park. The tournament will feature teams from 16 different nations, and the top eight teams will qualify for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"We've trained really hard in the last three days, and it's really good to finish off with a competitive game," Webb said.  "By playing against other quicker, sharper teams, it stretches my players and adds the intensity that they wouldn't get while playing teams with similar impairments."

Playing against a world-class team can be a challenge in any sport, but the Americans said the unique experience was priceless. England CP won the match 3-0.

"The England players are phenomenal," said 1st Lt. Mark Margison-Allen, center midfielder for the Liberty FC. "They are great. I didn't know what to expect before the game, but they are a talented team and very technically good on moving the ball well. They definitely made us work, and we ran our legs off."

One of the biggest takeaways for the Liberty FC was a sense of inspiration from the English players.

"It goes to show, with training and work ethic, that they can be more successful than us in the field, and that's inspirational to us," Grabowski said.  "Seeing how technically advanced they are, how skillful they are, losing to them is just an eye-opener, and, it goes to show that, with anything you do in life, if you train and practice hard you can be awesome at it."