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Amputee Soccer Teams Are Popping Up All over Europe

An interview with Michael Jacobs, the coach of Belgium's national amp soccer squad.

by Pete Wu
26 June 2014, 6:00am

In June 2013, the first-ever amputee soccer match between Holland and Belgium took place in Antwerp. The game was supposed to be friendly, but it turned out to be the exact opposite after one player tripped the other by grabbing his only leg. As you can see in the video above, the clash quickly turned into a 20-man brawl with players and fans throwing fists, feet, and crutches around.

The video quickly spread around the internet, but that's about as far as our collective interest went. It's been a year and no media organization seems to have expressed any interest in amp soccer since, so I caught up with Michael Jacobs, the Belgian team's coach, to learn the ins and outs of playing soccer while missing a limb.

VICE: You still have both your legs. How did you become the coach of a one-legged team?
Michael Jacobs:
I used to play soccer in Belgium but failed to make it to the Premier League—although I did play in the First Division. I had to quit when I was 25, as I had already gone through seven knee surgeries. So I became a coach for youth soccer teams, which I enjoyed. Two years ago, I started the amp soccer squad thinking I could use all the experience I got as a coach for kids.

All photos courtesy of Amp Soccer Belgium

Why a team for amputees, though?
I work at a technical orthopedic center—we develop prosthetics and removable shoe inserts. A colleague of mine once traveled for work to Warsaw, where he saw the Polish amp soccer team play. So we started toying with the idea of starting our own team in Belgium.

A whole national team of one-legged players doesn't sound easy to put together.
It was indeed very hard to find players, as well as sponsors and a place to play.

How come?
It has to grow, you know? You have to show everyone that soccer for people with a disability is glorious. The people who ended up making my team didn't have an interest in sports before. But we offer them a chance to actually make a difference by being part of a national squad. My players have really bloomed into a group of like-minded people in the past couple of years.

So what has happened to your team since that unfortunate incident last year?
We joined an international tournament in Ireland—it was like a small European Championship with six teams. It was the perfect opportunity to test ourselves and see how we measure against other amputee teams like the Polish, the English, the Germans, and the Dutch.

How did it go?
We won third place in the playoffs against the Dutch with 1–0!

You sound proud.
Yes! After that, we wanted more, so we played another friendly match against the Dutch (again) for the opening of the Disability Games, a global tournament for disabled people. It’s like the Paralympics, but it’s smaller and everyone can participate.

Is there anything else you’d like your team to accomplish?
We’d love to go to the World Championships in Mexico this year. No qualifications are necessary for that tournament—you just have to sign up—but we’ll have to see if we can afford it. There are 25 national amp soccer teams in the world, but only a few can actually afford to go to Mexico.

Overall, you and your team seem to do just fine.
Yes, we do!

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