In pursuit of perfection: Ollie Nugent's love of the game

Saturday 13 Jun 2015
England CP's Ollie Nugent
For Ollie Nugent the pursuit of perfection starts in the dressing room.

The 17-year-old England midfielder is one of the brightest talents in the world of Cerebral Palsy football and a young professional at Tranmere Rovers.

He is expected to be a key player for Cerebral Palsy World Championships hosts England when the tournament kicks off at St. George’s Park on Monday – but he has to get his boots on first.

Ollie Nugent (front row, far left) pictured with the rest of the England CP squad

“I can do them, but it’d take me a good five minutes on each and it would have to be perfection so it doesn’t come undone,” laughs the lad from the Wirral. 

“I’ve got the grip on my right hand but not the coordination. I have to do everything on one hand and just grab with the other.”

Nugent could never be accused of not grabbing most opportunities with both hands. 

Born with cerebral palsy after suffering a stroke when he was born, his parents were told of the challenges that might lay ahead, but Ollie walked at 10 months.

“It was just a normal life from then on and as soon as I started kicking a ball they knew nothing would affect me in the longer run,” he said.

“Unless people paid full detail and had a good stare no-one could notice anyway.”

His cerebral palsy affects his right side and his eyesight – he is also eligible to play for England’s Partially Sighted team – but through determination and hard graft he has worked his way to the fringes of the professional game.

“I just got used to it. It affects my peripheral vision mainly, which can be a bit of a problem in football. But I’ve adapted, looking over my shoulder a bit more. I’ve got better with age,” he said. 


The England CP squad gathered at St. George's Park for the CP World Championship draw in March

He joined Tranmere when he was eight, and did not consider himself to even have a disability until he was 13.

“Someone from the England setup went through the records at Tranmere to see if there was anyone eligible for a disability team and found me. 

“They spoke to my PE teacher and then spoke to [FA National Development Manager] Jeff Davis and I’ve been involved since then.”

He added: “I came into the development squad and they asked me what classification I was and I didn’t understand. I just knew I had a disability on my right-hand side. 

“I was playing with lads who knew everything about it - so I had to do a bit of research.”

What is CP Football? Find out here.

Nugent cannot think about classification – one of the big issues in disability sport – without shaking his head at the injustice of it all.

CP football is a seven-a-side game where participants are classified by their level of impairment.

Each team must field at least one category five or six player – the highest level of impairment affecting both legs – which often results in the class 5 players playing as a goalkeeper to account for any restricted movement.

They can also field only one category eight – the ‘superstar’ position where captain Jack Rutter and London Paralympian Ibs Diallo vie for the same spot.

The rest of the team is made up of category sevens, whose medium level of impairment affects one side.

Nugent explains: “I’m supposed to be a seven, because I have CP on one side. So that makes me a seven.

Ollie Nugent in action for England CP against Netherlands

“But the classifiers think not. They say I have too much power in my legs and that I am too quick.

“They say because I have trained so much that I am too strong. The tests say there is 30 per cent less strength in my right leg than in my right but they say the difference is not enough. 

“So because I have trained for my whole life and worked hard, it’s a disadvantage to me. They have made me an eight.”

Unless the classifiers change their minds on the eve of the tournament, Nugent will have to battle with Rutter and Diallo for a place.

“It’s heart-breaking. I have always trained to become the best and nothing else,” he said.

“You’re only allowed one eight and I’m only 17 against people who are in their 20s.”

But Nugent has resolved to do what he has always done – work.

“We could actually do something instead of worrying about other teams”

Ollie Nugent on England CP's World Championship chances

England open the tournament against Japan on Tuesday 16 June. The Three Lions must finish in the top two of Group A to progress to the quarter-finals, which will also secure them a place at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s not the best draw,” said Nugent with a nod of understatement. 

“When we first saw it we were a bit shocked – we thought that we might not get to go to the Paralympics, but the next day we started to think that we have already drawn 1-1 with Ukraine, and that we have improved so much as a team. 

“We could actually do something instead of worrying about other teams.

“We have to do as well as we can against Ukraine and score as many as possible against Japan.”

Make no mistake – Nugent is ready to take on the world – and not even a troublesome bootlace will stand in his way.

England kick-off the 2015 Cerebral Palsy World Championships on Tuesday 16 June against Japan. 

For more information on the tournament, and for details of how to attend, please click here.

By James Callow Content manager