A chance taster session got Alice Hopkins hooked on blind football. Now, two years later, the University of Worcester student is representing her country at the first world tournament to feature the women’s sport.
Alice is in the England squad competing at the IBSA (International Blind Sports Federation) World Games starting in Birmingham next week.
“It’s terrifying, but exciting because I know as a player I have progressed so much since I started,” said the 22-year-old. “As a squad we have come such a long way together. I can’t wait to see what happens.”
There are eight women’s blind football teams from around the world competing at the Games, which is the largest high-level international event for athletes with visual impairments. The event runs from August 18 to August 27, but Alice’s group games start on Monday (August 14). The Games has a number of different sports, including powerlifting, judo and men’s blind football, but this is the first-ever world championships to involve the women’s blind football game. Alice, who is studying History and Creative Writing at the University, is one of nine people selected for the England squad. She competed at the first women’s blind football European Championships last year in Italy.
The midfielder got her first introduction to football in 2021 when attending the Royal National College for the Blind, in Hereford, as a transition year before university. “The college put on different activities to try,” she said. “I was dragged along by a friend to a blind football session. They ended up hating it and I really loved it.”
Alice said she liked the challenge of the sport, adding: “You have got to listen to guide, coach and goalkeeper, focus on where your team is, where your opponents are, where the ball is. It can be very mentally taxing.”
Though Alice has always been active, she had never done any structured sport apart from blind boccia, which is similar to bowls. The taster sessions were run by those connected to the national setup and, a few sessions later, the English Football Association invited Alice to join its talent pathway.
“I didn’t have shin pads, football boots or anything I needed,” she said. “I’d made this deal that I would only buy proper equipment if I got in [the squad]. Given I was never an athlete, I had no stamina, no body strength at all. I have developed a lot in my technical skills and physical ability.”
Alice, who plays for RNC Hereford, was named in the England squad when the FA announced the founding of its first national women’s blind football team in May 2022.
Alice, of Newark, Nottinghamshire, does almost daily gym sessions and training a few times a week, alongside her studies and a part-time job at the University. She is supported by the University’s Sports Scholarship programme. “It’s trying to get that balance,” she said. “The Scholarship definitely helps. I have a lot of structured support, like nutritional support, and strength and conditioning coaching.”
She hopes the tournament will raise awareness of women’s blind football nationally, but in particular among the blind community. “If more people know it exists, it would expand,” she said. “For the men’s squad, this tournament is a qualifier for the Paris Games. Unfortunately we’re not a Paralympic sport, but it might be in 2028. That would be my ultimate dream; I would love to get to the Paralympics.”