TONY Larkin has been axed as head coach of the England and Great Britain blind football team.

The former Hereford United skipper, who developed the UK’s first specialist programme for the sport, admitted he was ‘shocked’ by the FA’s decision.

Larkin has been involved in blind football since 1989.

His first international match was in Madrid in 1995 and his name is synonymous with the discipline throughout the world.

Larkin’s ‘inspirational’ assistant-coach, Jon Pugh, the former Westfields goalkeeper, has also been removed from his role with the national team.

Last week, UK Sport announced £1.3 million funding to help prepare the blind football team for the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

Larkin said: “The FA are going to utilise their own staff and replace Jon and me with fresh voices. The decision was a shock but football is a funny game. There has been an option left for me.”

He added: “Working alongside British Blind Sport, I built a team capable of competing at international level and was proud to see us take bronze at the first European Championships for the blind in 1997. We have not dropped out of the top three in Europe since.”

Larkin lives in Swainshill and works at Hereford’s Royal National College where the national team have been based.

But the England blind squad are holding their next training session at St George’s Park, the FA’s National Football Centre, near Burton-upon-Trent.

Larkin’s former charges competed as Great Britain at the London 2012 Paralympics and finished seventh out of eight nations.

England were fourth as Hereford hosted a hugely successful IBSA World Championship in 2010. And Larkin, who is 57 next month, guided England to third place at the 2011 European Championship in Turkey.

Earlier this year, Larkin said he was working on a five-year cycle and intended to continue as head coach until at least 2016. He wanted England to be crowned European champions.

But Jeff Davis, FA national disability officer, said Graham Keeley had been appointed as the new head coach of the blind team. Keeley is a member of FA staff, who has been in charge of the England partially-sighted team and worked with the England women’s squad. Simon Gerrard is likely to be team manager.

“We had a look at the team’s results over the last four years and the real problem was ever since 2009 when they beat Spain in the semi-final of the European Championship, they have not beaten a team ranked above them,” said Davis.

“The team has drawn a lot of games and have not been able to turn draws into wins. We felt we needed a change and we looked to bring the running of the blind team in-house. “It’s a culmination of results over a period of time and, at the Paralympics, we could not turn draws into wins over Spain and Argentina when we need to.”

Davis said Hereford and the RNC would still have a role to play in the development of blind football at international level.

“We will be talking to Tony because of his wealth of experience and we have offered him a role,” said Davis.

“He’s very well respected in the FA. Even if Tony had stayed as head coach, we have a fantastic new facility in Burton and the squad’s next training session is there in January.”

Davis added: “The development squad will still be based in Hereford. We will still hold games in Hereford and it is an integral link to what we do.”

Larkin said he was proud to be leaving a squad capable of winning the European Championship next year and dominating the sport in Europe.

“My proudest memory is the final day of the parade in London in the summer,” said Larkin. “Seeing the streets packed with people cheering Olympians and Paralympians together was overwhelming.” “They didn’t see disabled people - they saw elite athletes and they celebrated them.”