A Financial Controller for Princes has been selected to play football for England.
Laurie Sephton, who is based in Princes’ head office in the Royal Liver Buildings in Liverpool and lives in Widnes, is part of the England Walking Football Squad.
The national governing body, the Walking Football Association (WFA), was launched in December 2016 and helps people with physical or mental impairments to take part in sport. The game is a 6-a-side format, below head height with no running or contact. Walking Football for Parkinson’s is a recent add on.
Laurie, 47, who was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease when he was 38, has been made a defender for the team.
He was spotted after playing for a couple of years for Northern Lights PD FC, a voluntary organisation in Bootle which encourages players with Parkinson’s and people recovering from a stroke to play football. Northern Lights won the first Sport Parkinson’s Cup in July last year.
Laurie said, “I’m delighted to have made the England squad and it is a brilliant initiative. I was skipping around the office like a kid when I heard the news.
“I’ve trained in two England camps so far and I’m looking forward to my first match. I’m also hoping to play in WFA tournaments in Spain and Australia in the next 18 months.
“Parkinson’s is an extremely frustrating condition but when I start playing football it takes me straight back to being a lad.
“As soon as I step out on the pitch it is like my brain forgets I have the disease. I instantly stop shaking and stumbling when I play football. What’s incredible is that I turn into a footballer – I turn into Laurie – again.
“Other players with Parkinson’s arrive at a game in their wheelchairs or walking with the help of a stick and, just like me, they are transformed too. I don’t know whether it’s your brain overriding the disease or some sort of muscle memory kicking in, but it is an amazing feeling.”
Laurie was diagnosed with Parkinson’s after he started getting tremors in his hands.
He said, “I had worked in many areas for Princes in Mauritius and Liverpool and had a young family and big plans for the future. Parkinson’s had other ideas.
“Over the last three years my symptoms got to the point where I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do before. In many meetings I had to sit on my left hand or trap it painfully under the desk to combat tremors.
“My normally joyful disposition was replaced by a blank expression which is synonymous with Parkinson’s, as are speech problems and a tremor in my jaw and tongue. My daughter recently made me a giant cardboard smile on a stick which I regularly hold up to show I’m happy even if I don’t look it.
“The company has been great and have made adjustments so I can continue doing my job. Work is so important to me as it gives me a sense of worth and I feel like I can be open with my struggles and everyone is so supportive and flexible.”
Laurie has been a football fan since he was a young boy. His dad, George Sephton, has famously been the match announcer at Anfield for Liverpool Football Club for over 50 years and his grandfather trialled for the club in the 1920s.
As well as walking football, Laurie boxes twice a week at Rock Steady Boxing in Widnes. Founded in America in 2006 by a young-onset patient who wanted to challenge his disease, the gym has been in Widnes since 2016 and is designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s.
The different boxing exercises help to address Parkinson’s symptoms such as tremor, balance, posture and strength as well as increasing fitness levels.
Laurie said, “Regular exercise, whether it’s football or boxing, makes a huge difference to me and the endorphins seems to stave off my symptoms for the rest of the day.”