As part of our fundraiser for the Villa Rockets Powerchair Football Club, I caught up with Martin Mills who coaches the team. Martin balances his life between the Rockets and running up and down the country managing his events company. Immediately Martin warns me that his role in the club is the 'same old story'. He's the chairman and the club runs on the hard work of its various volunteers, which is what I've come to expect of various sporting organisations in the UK that may lack state funding. Martin did state that it was difficult balancing his personal life and the running of the Rockets, but he has strong support from not only the team, but the club captain and manager Amir and Clive (who we spoke to earlier in the week) respectively. This allows Martin to get on with helping the players develop.
Martin showed an attitude that I feel is hard to come by, especially in the world of football. "It was hard, I mean hard. We had 3 players and two other lads. It's all voluntary, so it's difficult doing this and my day job which takes me up the country."
Martin has a background at football and has his badges (I don't think Sherwood has as many as Martin!), so as good as the Rockets may be, they've got experience backing them. "I got my badges at Birmingham City, and that's where I developed this sort of ethos. Everyone's on the same level, we're all on the same field and I think that's worked well with the guys."
A stark reminder brought back the reality of this sport. It's anything but 'normal' football. When Martin mentioned losing players, I rather innocently thought they had left the club. I was so wrapped up in the conversation that I forgot Martin coached Powerchair football. When the words funeral left his lips, I found it hard to believe him. "It was incredible, we built the squad up to 23 players and though we lost a few guys and quite close to each other, we pushed on. We had a bond. I found myself speaking at one of the funerals and I felt I had to tell everyone not to be upset, he's gonna be playing football somewhere! He was a Villa Rocket, we are Villa Rockets and we will fight on."
In true Villa tradition, Martin is proud of the constant rotation of youth that the professional mens team has shown throughout history and has emulated this with the Rockets. "Lads turn up at 11 and 12, and suddenly they are twenty! This sport turns the boys into men, literally. Someone like Bradley [Addison] who is a young lad with us now, if he stops and stays with the team then here is someone you can pass the torch onto. We've obviously lost lads, but we fight on. We bring the development team through to carry on the Rockets legacy."
Martin is as much as part of the Rockets as Gareth Barry, Brad Friedel and Lee Hendrie were stalwarts of a 2000's Villa team. He's been with them since 2003, which is buckets more loyalty than your common footballer. The funny thing? "It's weird though, being a bluenose. But being Birmingham, we didn't have the infrastructure that Villa had. Through my niece who worked with a charity I found the Rockets who are obviously backed by Villa but I'm always up for helping those who are up for accepting my help!"
The Rockets don't mess around either - Martin said that they play to win. Every season he asks them the same question. "Are we playing for fun this year or playing to win?" You can likely guess the answer. "Of course, they want to win, even if it means some of them don't play all the time. They are here to fight."
Finishing up with Martin, I felt I had to ask him why. Why was he devoting so much of his time to the Rockets cause? "Because it's football. It's about the sport, developing young players and giving them the chance to play at the highest platform they can. Why should they not play at all? Rhys is one of our boys and can hardly speak or communicate, but his passion does all the talking! I managed to play to a decent level, why shouldn't people of any race, gender or ability to be able to play the game they love?"
Throughout the FA Cup final week, we're raising money for the Villa Rockets Powerchair Football club. With your help we can reach £5,000 and get them a new powerchair! Read about the club and our effort here, or simply click here to donate and help us reach our goal! And remember, if you donate any amount, you can enter to win a free Fabian Delph t-shirt from The Art of Football!