TONY Larkin is ‘Britain’s best-performing national football manager of all time’.
That is the view from former England blind football captain Dave Clarke.
Clarke is England’s greatest goalscorer, netting 128 times in 144 appearances for his country before retiring after the London Paralympics.
The 41-year-old ex-Royal National College trustee said Larkin, who lives in Swainshill, had worked with ‘passion and desire to drag blind football into the mainstream’.
Larkin, he said, had helped transform ‘a sport relying on borrowed kit and railway station donations to one which sits proudly as part of the football family’.
In the dark days, Clarke said Larkin, who works at RNC, would wash kit, drive players to matches, and subsidise travel costs.
“He even arranged player refreshments for the long journey home from Hereford, the home of blind football for the last 17 years,” said Clarke.
Last month, the Hereford Times exclusively revealed that Graham Keeley had replaced long-serving Larkin as head coach of the England and Great Britain blind football teams. Keeley is a member of FA staff, who has been in charge of the England partially-sighted team.
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 spent 17 years at the helm, steering his team to three Paralympic qualifications, five world championship qualifications and participation in eight European Championships, finishing second on five occasions. Clarke said he had benefited from Larkin’s tireless commitment, innovative coaching methods, professional knowhow and determination to win.
“As an ex-professional, Larkin certainly knew a lot about maximising talent and brought his infectious enthusiasm for the game to every training session,” said Clarke.
“It was in Hereford in 2008 that Larkin’s dreams began to come to fruition, with the opening of the world’s first-ever blind football academy, where students are schooled in the beautiful game alongside structured learning and a sports science programme all designed to produce future Paralympic talent.”
Clarke added: “While I can point to numerous victories at invitational tournaments against top opposition in Greece, Spain, France and the UK, the truth is the big prize ultimately eluded him.”