Blackpool author who made football dreams come true

Peter Holme
Peter Holme
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A Blackpool man has turned his true story about the power of football to change lives into a truly inspirational book.

Peter Holme, a pensioner from Dauntesey Avenue, had no background in writing but his moving and fascinating account was irresistible to London publishers Austin Macauley.

It’s title ‘Can I Play For England?’ was a question asked of Peter by a man with mental illness who was under his care. Peter’s reply was ‘yes’ and the book concerns his quest to make the dream of that man, and of many others with disabilities and special needs, a reality

A promising player himself and an apprentice with Bolton Wanderers, Peter had been forced to give up on his own football dream when a serious injury left him with a steel plate in his back.

Having moved to Blackpool around 1970 to run a scrap metal business, Peter went on to study social science at Manchester University and joined the NHS’s community support team.

The football team he formed, with help from the former Blackpool striker and future Fleetwood Town boss Craig Madden, would change the lives of many who played in it forever. The success of the team resulted in Peter being invited to be England’s head coach for the Disability/Special Needs World Championship in Leicester in 1998.

The competition had FIFA’s backing and had Gary Lineker as a patron, and Peter’s team were invited to meet the senior England squad at Bisham Abbey, receiving a special good luck message from captain Alan Shearer.

If you don’t know how the tournament panned out for England, you can probably guess from the words ‘Germany’ and ‘penalties’, though Peter’s book is not preoccupied with events on the field.

It concerns the life-enhancing experiences he helped his players to enjoy. Besides football, he got people involved in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, allotment-keeping and learning to keep animals.

He also attended meetings which ultimately led to the creation of Blackpool Sports Centre at Stanley Park.

But it is in football that his legacy is most clearly evident. 25 Ability Counts leagues exist across the country, with play open to a spectrum of abilities and awareness, while seven impairment-specific teams represent England. The Learning Disability team were crowned world champions in Japan in 2002.

Encouraged by his brother-in-law to commit his story to paper during a walk in Cleveleys, Peter set about writing his unforgettable story.

He told The Gazette: “I’m not a scholar but I decided I’d sit down an write it before it was too late, not thinking it would be published.

“Some publishers would not accept it because I was not a known writer but I got a phone call out of the blue asking me to submit two chapters. They must have thought it was worth putting out.”

His inspiration was his late wife Ann, who had been a great source of support and would be so proud to see his story in print.

He recalls: “Ann wasn’t really interested in football, but she always stood by me when things were going wrong and she could see what the boys were getting out of it, so she put up with my absenteeism.”

At a time Blackpool continues to generate football headlines for mostly negative reasons, it’s so refreshing to read Peter’s purely positive story.

“I used to be very involved with Blackpool FC and I wish I had the power to sit them all down and sort it out, though I worry it will get worse before it gets better.”

But that will be a story for others to chronicle. “I have another book in me but not about football,” Peter said. “There’s a book in my head based on a lot of other things.”

Can I Play For England is available in book shops now, priced £12.99, or can be ordered online at amazon.co.uk or waterstones.com