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January 16, 2005

Ace leads Britain in gold chase

From: The Age, Australia - Jan 16, 2005

By Stathi Paxinos
January 16, 2005

In England, deaf soccer player Lee Farrell has proved himself more than equal to players in semi-professional leagues, even scoring the winning goal to take his East Preston side to its best-ever performance in the FA Cup earlier this season.

At Melbourne's Deaflympics, he has also been a star. As the tournament's top goalscorer, he has been instrumental in leading Britain into the gold medal match against surprise packet Iran, to be played at Olympic Park today.

Farrell has impressed many observers with his ball control and feel for the game, scoring 10 goals so far.

Last October, Farrell proved a hero for East Preston when he scored the winning goal against Uxbridge to take his side, where he is the only deaf player, to the third qualifying round of the FA Cup. East Preston was beaten 2-0 by Billericay Town.

Farrell's brother also plays in the team, where instructions and gameplans are usually written down for Farrell and explained in diagrams.

Britain Deaflympics' team manager Phillip Gardner said Farrell's natural ability and feel for the game overcame all barriers faced when playing in the "hearing" league. In Melbourne, Gardner said he had proved himself as one of the best deaf players going around.

"He's a natural athlete, his ball control overcomes all difficulty. He's a fantastic player . . . he's one of our best," Gardner said.

Gardner said a gold medal for Britain would provide a huge boost in participation and sponsorship in the home countries after the side hit "rock bottom" and failed to perform well in any competition since winning the Deaflympics in 1989.

He said he took control of an ageing team in 2000, but, with the exception of a handful of players, had rebuilt it with an emphasis on youth. Most of the team were in their early 20s.

"When we won gold in 1989, (the team) decided to stay on and the players got old, so when I came in in 2000, I off-loaded them and started everything from scratch," Gardner said.

Britain captain Nick Beese, who plays for Fulham's deaf team, which plays in a "hearing" competition, said Iran had proved to be the surprise packet of the tournament. "They've surprised the whole of the deaf football community to get to the final," said Beese.

David Peters, Deaflympics group manager of sports and venues, said today's finalists had beaten 14 other teams and another 30 had fallen by the wayside in the qualifying rounds.

He explained the only modification used in deaf soccer was that referees used a flag as well as a whistle to signal a foul.

"The referee uses the flag and we encourage the other players, if they've seen the flag and others haven't, to let them know as well," Peters said.

"In other sports, such as swimming and athletics, they use devices such as light systems, but for soccer we can't use lights. It's too difficult to see them on the field, so we just use the flag. Unfortunately there might be a few seconds' delay to stop play."

In other results, America was too strong for Australia in the basketball bronze medal play-off, winning 90-62.

Copyright © 2005. The Age Company Ltd.