Farrel Anthony is determined to bridge the age gap as he looks to complete his Paralympic Games mission ... one year short of his 50th birthday!
To gain qualification for London 2012 would be an incredible achievement in itself - even more so given the challenges the evergreen table tennis star has had to overcome.
Sheffield-born Farrel, who has suffered from cerebral palsy since birth, is a self-funded athlete which, of course, means he has to pay his own way.
It’s certainly not an ideal scenario but it’s one that he readily accepts.
“The Great Britain Table Tennis squad is funded by UK Sport and Sport England but I don’t fit into their criteria for support,” said Farrel.
“They pick the players who they think have the best chance of getting a medal in 2012 and they’re the ones who get the money, but there are other players like myself on the periphery who they would fund if they had the money.
“However, they’ll give you the authority to represent GB and they’ll support you in terms of training (at the English Institute of Sport), going to training camps and tournaments but you have to fund it yourself.”
On average a tournament costs around £1,200 with travel costs, entry fee and accomodation which is why sponsorship is so vital to him. At the moment he receives help from his main backer, a firm in Penistone, plus another which is based near the English Institute of Sport and the disability charity Within Reach for whom he is an ambassador. Farrel has also played exhibition matches against customers and staff at a Sainsbury’s supermarket which included a bucket collection. Maybe he’ll be allowed to do a ‘till dash’ next time round!
On a couple of occasions he’s used his own savings to enter tournaments ... “It’s my dream to qualify and if I don’t believe in it how can other people. If I’m not prepared to do something, why should they?”
Farrel has to take part in as many tournaments as possible to get the ranking points he requires in his battle to gain qualification for London, the latest being in Costa Rica where he returned with a bronze in the singles and a gold in the ‘team’ event.
At the moment he is ranked 24 in the world but needs to get in the top 16 by the end of the year with, potentially, four tournaments remaining.
He takes part in the Czech Open this weekend and then returns for the British Open which starts at the EIS next Wednesday. If he performs well in both he may well get enough points for that elusive place in the top 16 but most likely he will have to get something from either the Korean Open, on November 28, or the Argentinian Open on December 7.
The cut off date is December 31 but that doesn’t guarantee automatic selection as it’s then up to the Governing Body to put him forward for the GB team. It’s a process made even more difficult as Farrel competes in Category 7 which is the most competitive class in the country and includes his EIS teammate Will Bayley who is ranked No2 in the World.
Farrel was a late starter in table tennis - he didn’t begin playing competitively with his church team in the Sheffield and District League until he was 20.
He admits he didn’t know anything about disabled sport until the late 80s when he got a phone call asking him if he was interested in joining the GB table tennis team but he said ‘no’ as he was going back to university.
He received a call year after year and consequently he turned his back on the Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta Paralympic Games as he was ‘too busy’ but the turning point came in the 2000 Games in Sydney.
“I suddenly thought, this is the Millennium Games and I want to be part of them. So I rang this guy who said he’d more or less given up hope of ever persuading me to take part,” added Farrel.
He played his first disabled tournament in 1997 and a year later won the British Open. Then came his first international in South Africa which cemented his place in Sydney, although he missed out on a medal.
Unfortunately on his return the pressures of work meant he couldn’t get time off to train and he was relegated to being a bit-part player. He was re-selected in 2006 but his attempts to qualify for Beijing ended in failure. However, the lure of London 2012 remained.
“It’s a one-off opportunity to compete in an Paralympics in front of your home crowd so I decided to put everything on hold. It’s my dream and I didn’t want to get to the end of the year and say ‘if only.’”
If anyone can help Farrel achieve his dream then contact him on 07796833926.