Football hopes in another league

England's learning disability team defends its World Cup title with the help of an inspired teacher-manager. Jon Slater reports

Lyndon Lynch, director of sport at Leytonstone business and enterprise college, is confident he can succeed where Sven Goran Eriksson failed and bring the football World Cup home from Germany.

The PE teacher spends his spare time managing the England learning disability team who will kick off their own campaign on September 1.

Unlike his famous contemporary, Mr Lynch's confidence is based on more than mere bluster. England will take to the field in their first match against Mexico in Hannover as reigning world champions, defending the title he and his team won in front of 25,000 people in Yokohama, Japan, in 2002.

Mr Lynch, a former non-league player and then a coach, got involved with the team in 1999 after a colleague became disability manager at the Football Association.

But juggling the demands of running a national team with those of his school and his role as sports co-ordinator for 19 schools in Waltham Forest, east London, is a struggle. As well as major tournaments every two years, the team takes part in five or six training weekends every year. Mr Lynch also attends regional training days where he identifies promising talent.

The FA describes his structure for talent-spotting - which includes an under-17 team created two years ago - as "the envy of the rest of the sporting disability world".

When asked how he manages to fill the three roles, he said: "I don't know.

I'm very committed and I enjoy every part of what I do - both teaching and the football. I get great support from my headteacher and senior managers in terms of time."

While the demands of managing an international team sometimes come into conflict with the day-jobs, Mr Lynch believes they also complement each other.

Although the team is for adults, his position as school sports co-ordinator has allowed him to spot two current members of the squad - star striker Tony Boot and Wesley Jackman, a goalkeeper.

A quarter of the pupils at Leytonstone have special needs. Mr Lynch, who was awarded the Mussabini medal for services to sport by the Princess Royal in 2003, uses the FA citizenship programme to help improve the behaviour and self-esteem of pupils who are at risk of becoming disaffected.

He can also hold up the example of the footballers in his team who have overcome the stigma of learning difficulties, and in many cases their own behavioural problems. One, Bertie Brayley, scored two goals in the 1999 FA youth cup final as part of a West Ham United team which included the current England stars Joe Cole and Michael Carrick.

Mr Lynch said: "The kids at school are quite proud that their teacher is involved with the England football team.

"I like to think it helps their work in other areas - in information technology, for example. They are on the internet all the time looking to see how the team is doing."

Pupils were thrilled by the results of the warm-up games in which England thrashed Germany 6-1 and hammered France 10-0.

But not all Mr Lynch's football activities are so popular. The 54-year-old admits to being "one of those Manchester United fans from London".

"It is mostly Arsenal fans in this area and I do get a fair amount of stick," he said.


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