Interview with Mateusz Widłak, President of the European Amputee Football Federation (EAFF)
Could you give a brief history of amputee football in Poland, Europe and the world?
‘Ampfutbol’ is football for amputees and people with limb defects. It has been around since 1980. However, for many years it was a kind of dormant sport. It was played by a dozen or so countries, most of which had only national teams. Apart from the players, not many people heard about or were interested in the game. For the past 8-10 years or so, amputee football has experienced a real boom. In Europe alone, the number of countries where the sport is practised has increased from 11 to 19 in the last five years. The number of players, clubs, leagues, international events and matches has grown by hundreds of per cent. Children and youth amputee football have emerged, and thousands of fans have followed club and international competitions. Major clubs such as Manchester City, PSV Eindhoven, etc., set up amputee sections. The biggest football stars such as Luis Figo, Cafu, and Robert Lewandowski are involved in promoting amputee football. Now, there are almost 70 countries worldwide playing amputee football. Strong continental federations are being established, and the discipline is increasingly moving towards Paralympic sports. We, as Poles, certainly have our merits in this history.
And already great success?
The Polish Amputee Football Team was established almost ten years ago and has made rapid progress since its inception. We have already played at the World Championships three times, reaching the semi-finals and, recently, the quarter-finals. We also played at the European Championships, where we won bronze medals. We are one of the European leaders in this sport. We started junior amputee football together with the English and the Irish. We help develop the sport in many countries and create new projects, such as the EAFF Champions League.
How do you assess our group in the European Championships and identify the favourites?
At the EURO in Kraków, the strongest teams will definitely be Turkey, England, Russia and, of course, us. The favourites may also be Spain. We will try to make sure that our team and our fantastic fans are the most satisfied after the final.
In the draw we got by far the best team from basket two, Spain, against whom we have always played hard, but whom we can also beat. Recently although with difficulty, but we have won regularly. We also got the best team from basket three – Ukraine, but as the last Amp Football Cup showed, we should not be feared it anymore. The last team in our group is Israel who, like Scotland who they replaced, are new to amputee football. They are just gaining experience. We hope to win the group and meet the favoured English in the semi-finals. There, a battle for everything awaits us, which I believe we will win. For the second semi-final pair I predict Turkey and Russia.
We have a very nice team, which is a mixture of youth and experience. Our players have overcoming adversity in their blood, so the pandemic and postponement of the tournament could not break them. We have been preparing for this championship for several years. We are playing at home. What more do you want? It’s going to be a great tournament!
Why is Kraków the host city of the championship tournament?
Kraków has been the capital of Polish amputee football for several years now. It is here that the oldest and most titled amputee club plays. The club is now a part of Wisła Kraków. Here, the record of amputee football attendance was set while opening the Prądniczanka stadium with a match against the Irish national team. Finally, it is here that a large part of our coaches and national team players come from. When we received an enquiry from Kraków about the joint organisation of the championship event, I knew straight away that it would be a hit. The involvement of the city, the Krakow fans, and the draw ceremony only confirmed it. It will be a magnificent time in Krakow!