Will Castle is a participant on the Crystal Palace Foundation’s Learning Difficulties football courses. 4 years ago Will was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder with Asperger’s Syndrome and Dyspraxia having lived the entirety of his life with these conditions undetected.
Will felt isolated in his school days as a young boy and often felt alienated from the mainstream. His memories of school are ones of seclusion and loneliness, which caused Will to retreat from the conventional childhood of a youngster.
In 1996 Will underwent work experience from college at Crystal Palace FC where he had fond memories visiting as a child alongside his Granddad – who was a lifelong Palace fan. Will has a passion for football and indeed Crystal Palace, which allowed him to escape from the difficulties of every day life and enjoy watching legends of the era such as Ian Wright and Mark Bright.
Will went on to spend 11 years as a steward in his twenties at fortress Selhurst Park, where he enjoyed encountering the buzz of match days. Unfortunately, still suffering with the complications of his learning difficulties had impacted hugely on Will’s social mobility and ability to interact with people.
It was his daytime work where he felt under-appreciated and put-on which resulted in him being depressed and shutting down so that he didn’t go to work and therefore lost his job.
Still retaining his love for Crystal Palace and football, Will noticed an advert in the newspaper for local football sessions catering for people with needs such as his own. Will took a risk by deciding to trial a session, but immediately felt comfortable in this environment. For the first time he felt understood and accepted in a group. The most apparent changes were communication and integrating with people in a social setting. Will commented that this is the first time he believed he was surrounded by like-minded people who accepted and appreciated his condition.
Since joining the Croydon Eagles, Will has gone from strength to strength. His mother, Josie, has noticed the biggest change in his personality and general attitude to life. She expressed her joy at Will being more ‘awake and alert, happy, settled and accepted’. Will has eventfully been able to have fun, laugh and interact with people ‘on his wavelength’.
The Crystal Palace Foundation are constantly reaching out to vulnerable people of all ages that need a helping hand to find people similar to themselves. We give these people a way of expressing themselves in an environment they feel comfortable and a chance to engage with people who might have similar experiences to them. Importantly, these programmes are a way to give participants an enjoyable and happy experience, meet new people, learn new skills and play some football along the way.
This project, fronted by Michael Harrington, Foundation Disability Officer, has given Will a new lease of life and a big step into an accommodating community.
If you know of anyone who shares a similar story to Will, or are interested in being involved in one of our sessions, please get in touch with Michael Harrington at the Foundation: MichaelHarrington@cpfcfoundation.org