FOOTBALLER Jonathan Paterson has competed in two European Championships, two World Cups and at the Beijing Paralympic Games but admits – this is the big one; London 2012.
On September 1, the Motherwell lad will enter the Olympic Park’s Riverbank Arena in front of 15,000 fiercely patriotic Team GB supporters to begin his quest for medal glory.
Jonathan and his teammates take on the mighty Brazil in their opening match of the Paralympic seven-a-side tournament, a clash which will be televised live across the world.
He captained Great Britain to seventh place in Beijing four years ago but is determined to use momentum built up during this year’s Olympics to push on to greater things.
“At the Olympics, it was obvious all the athletes got a major lift from the home support,” he said this week. “The public attention has been amazing.
“Loads of people are taking an interest in the Paralympics now and it can catapult the whole event to a new level.
“Ticket sales have been greater than the last two or three Paralympics and some of the guys who have asked for extra tickets have been told there are none left.
“I will try to take it in my stride, to be honest. In Beijing there was just under 15,000 when we played hosts China. You need to just try and relax and play your own game.
“I am trying not to think about it and just focus on my own training.
“In Beijing, the overall experience was more than the football. We were staying in big hotels and travelling.
“This time it’s more focused on the football and we are determined to try and get in a medal match.”
The 24-year-old, who has right-sided cerebral palsy, will stay in the Olympic Village during competition and attend what will be a glittering opening ceremony on August 29.
When competition begins three days later, Team GB will be up against it as they bid to win a medal.
Iran and Russia are favourites for gold. Defending champions Ukraine and Brazil, both who are in Team GB’s group, are also heavily fancied.
Two teams qualify from each group and Jonathan has targeted second place in their group, which would give them a spot in the semi-finals and two chances at winning a medal.
While Jonathan is confident Team GB can defy the odds, the midfielder outlined what they are up against.
He said: “The top four teams in the world are semi-professional, training together for about five or six months of the year.
“They get together a month before competition.
“For us, we are split up over the different home nations and there isn’t any funding for full-time athletes at the moment.
“We will be up against it but it’s the biggest competition in the world and we can’t wait.”
He continued: “Our own preparations are far better this time.
“Not only that but the players we have, the staff and the training programmes put in place are great.
“We played in a tournament in Russia earlier this year and didn’t do too well but it gave us an opportunity to play against all the top teams who will be at the Paralympics.
“It was an eye-opener and we realised then what we had to do to improve.
“At the recent World Cup, we were beaten 4-2 by Brazil and most of the goals were our own downfall.
“We watched ourselves on video to see what we need to improve and analysed other teams.”
Paterson feels this can be a breakthrough year for all Paralympians.
He believes the exposure and interest generated at London 2012 can catapult a number of athletes into mainstream competition, much like South African 400 metres runner Oscar Pistorius, who competed at this year’s Olympics.
He also feels people who watch the seven-a-side football tournament will be pleasantly surprised at the standard on display.
“I have found it really difficult to get into football at mainstream level,” Jonathan admitted. “It’s not like their players are any better or fitter. It’s just this stigma attached to us. I can train with them but getting a game is different.
“The level of disability is not so high in football.
“One of the guys in our team used to play at QPR and was in a car accident, where he got his an acquired brain injury. Our captain played youth football at Liverpool.
“Some of the guys in the Russian and Iranian teams are capable of playing at professional level. It’s just about a club taking a chance on them because they are good enough.
“But people are beginning to notice. The guy who commentated at the Paralympic World Cup was asking why some of the players were not competing at a higher level. It’s people from the outside who are noticing.
“Could they cope with training at professional level? I think some have proved they can.
“Having the competition on terrestrial TV is great and more people will maybe appreciate how high a standard it is.”
- Jonathan would like to thank his family for holding a good luck pre-Paralympic party for him last weekend.
He joined up with the Team GB squad at their training camp in Bath on Saturday.