University of Worchester student Alice Hopkins to represent England at the International Blind Sports Federation World Games in Birmingham
A chance taster session two years ago got a woman from Newark hooked on blind football.
Now, Alice Hopkins who studies at the University of Worcester is representing her country at the first world tournament to feature the women's sport.
Hopkins is in the England squad competing at the IBSA (International Blind Sports Federation) World Games starting in Birmingham this week.
“It’s terrifying, but exciting because I know as a player I have progressed so much since I started,” said Hopkins.
“As a squad, we have come such a long way together."
There are eight women’s blind football teams from around the world competing at the games, which is the largest high-level international event for athletes with visual impairments.
The event runs from August 18 to August 27, but Hopkins' group games started on Monday (August 14).
The Games has several different sports, including powerlifting, judo, and men’s blind football, but it is the first-ever world championships to involve the women’s blind football game.
Hopkins, who is studying History and Creative Writing at Worchester, is one of nine people selected for the England squad.
She competed at the first women’s blind football European Championships last year in Italy.
The midfielder got her first introduction to football in 2021 when attending the Royal National College for the Blind, in Hereford, as a transition year before university.
“The college put on different activities to try,” she said.
“I was dragged along by a friend to a blind football session.
"They ended up hating it and I loved it.”
Alice said she liked the challenge of the sport, adding:
“You have got to listen to guide, coach, and goalkeeper, focus on where your team is, where your opponents are, where the ball is located.
"It can be very mentally taxing.”
Though Hopkins has always been active, she had never done any structured sport apart from blind boccia, which is similar to bowls.
The taster sessions were run by those connected to the national setup and, a few sessions later, the English Football Association invited Alice to join its talent pathway.
“I didn’t have shin pads, football boots, or anything I needed,” she said. “I’d made this deal that I would only buy proper equipment if I got in the squad.
"Given I was never an athlete, I had no stamina, or body strength at all.
"I have developed a lot in my technical skills and physical ability.”
Hopkins, who plays for RNC Hereford, was named in the England squad when the FA announced the founding of its first national women’s blind football team in May 2022.
The footballer does almost daily gym sessions and trains a few times a week, alongside her studies and a part-time job at the University.
She is supported by the University’s Sports Scholarship programme.
“It’s trying to get that balance,” she said.
“The Scholarship helps.
"I have a lot of structured support, like nutritional support, and strength and conditioning coaching.”
She hopes the tournament will raise awareness of women’s blind football nationally, but in particular among the blind community.
“If more people know it exists, it would expand,” she said.
“For the men’s squad, this tournament is a qualifier for the Paris Games. "Unfortunately, we’re not a Paralympic sport yet, but it might be in 2028. "That would be my ultimate dream; I would love to get to the Paralympics.”