Samuel Charron dribbles between para football and soccer

Samuel Charron returns from his stay in Australia, after his first experience in the Victorian State League 3, round six of the league. He is not the first Canadian soccer player to sign a professional contract overseas; but he is certainly one of the first with cerebral palsy to do so.

Because yes, the Franco-Ontarian mostly relies on one leg when playing. My paralysis affects my right side. Well, I’m left-handed!he says. I very rarely use my right leg, only when I’m in a really bad situation. But that’s where it limits me a bit.

It’s not just what affects me that’s bad. In addition, I can keep up with others. I can play 90 minutes per game. He took me to Australia. Now I want to see what level I can get to.

Samuel Charron during the 2016 qualifying match

Photo: Courtesy: Canada Soccer – Morten Olsen

The 25-year-old athlete is used to facing opponents who switch from foot to foot. He has been passionate about football since he was 4 years old, and he always played with players without disabilities. In the yard with friends, in local clubs, at school and in the university team of St. Francis Xavier, where he also obtained a diploma in international relations.

But alongside his 11-on-11 matches, Charron also excels in 7-on-7, parasoccer, an adapted version of the sport played by people with cerebral palsy.

In para football, he is certainly part of the world’s elite explains his coach Drew Ferguson, a former midfielder of the men’s national team who today leads the Canadian parafootball program. He’s really good, no doubt about that. In regular soccer, he could very well play in the Canadian Premier League, for example.

Samuel Charron’s roadmap confirms these praises. The Ottawan was named the best player of the tournament at the last two Para Football World Cups, 2019 and 2022. He scored 43 goals in 51 international matches. He is the best scorer in the history of the country.

And yet, he was recruited almost by accident, when he was 12 years old. Coach Ferguson was in Gloucester, a suburb of Ottawa, for training camp. The local team, in which Samuel Charron played, trained on the adjacent field. During the break we went to see. And when Samuel runs, he doesn’t seem to have CP (cerebral palsy). But when he walks, a little. Someone told us, “this guy has a PC”. We didn’t believe him, he was flying above the field. We checked with his dad to make sure.

Gives instructions during training.

Drew Ferguson is a former professional player who has represented Canada several times on the international stage.

Photo: Courtesy: Canada Soccer

An unorthodox form of scouting that Drew Ferguson and his team have become accustomed to since the program began. We once recruited a player in a hotel in British Columbia, simply by noticing a passerby walking around in particular.

It must be said that para football is less known than other para sports, such as wheelchair basketball. Canada Soccer has only been overseeing the program since 2011.

We have to publicize what we’re doing, because otherwise it’s a shame if we miss potentially good players.says Charron, admitting, however, that his sport has grown in popularity since its inception. However, it is developing slowly.

Parapan Americans as they await the Paralympics

Parafootball suffered a heavy blow when it was dropped from the Paralympic program after the Rio 2016 Games. The International Paralympic Committee wants the sport to develop a women’s pool, before bringing it back, due to parity issues.

This decision took Samuel Charron away from his Paralympic dream. Especially since Canada narrowly missed qualifying for the Rio Games.

A setback that hurt the Canadian team, for several reasons. With the loss of the Paralympic nomination, the athletes also lost funding. It was never clear to me why they removed us, after all we are talking about the most popular sport in the world, says Drew Ferguson. The team also lost one of its best players, Liam Stanley, who finally realized his Paralympic dream in athletics, representing Canada in Tokyo 2021.

Congratulating another runner after the race.

Liam Stanley, right, is a former member of the para football team. He represented Canada at the 2021 Paralympic Games in athletics.

Photo: Reuters / MARKO ĐURICA

But it could be a matter of time before one of para football’s best players officially becomes a Paralympic athlete. Samuel Charron is hoping for the Games in Los Angeles in 2028, when he will be 30 years old.

It really is a dream. It’s been a dream to play professionally, but to be able to represent Canada on the big stage would be great, there’s nothing like it.

However, the country will still have to qualify for this hypothetical Paralympic tournament. But this return also coincides with the international rise of Canada, which achieved the best result in its history at the 2022 World Championship with 9th place. Moreover, during this, the women’s tournament took place in parallel, which is another encouraging sign.

Drew Ferguson, Samuel Charron and the rest of the team will soon fly to Santiago, Chile next week to participate in the Parapan American Games.

The players are gathered to listen to the coach in a closed training session.

The Canadian parafootball team is preparing for the Parapan American Games in Santiago

Photo: Courtesy: Canada Soccer

An important tournament, an opportunity for Canada to confirm its rise on the world stage. The team has big ambitions.

We think we can play for bronze. We think we have a team for the podiumsays Samuel Charron, for whom Parapan Americans have an important place in their hearts. It’s a really great experience, with the athletes’ village and all that. In 2015 we had 4th place, at home in Toronto, it was extraordinary.

The team on site will be young. Only three veterans, including Charron, had Parapan American experience. A rare opportunity to build bonds for athletes scattered across a vast country, who don’t often get the chance to play together.

But the competition will be fierce, warns Drew Ferguson: the three best countries in the world, Argentina, the United States and Brazil, will be present in a competition of only six teams. These are very developed countries. Brazil, for example, has three national teams, divided by region. It won’t be easy.

After Santiago, Charron will return home to Ottawa for a few weeks before planning his next departure. He plans to return to Australia, this time to play a full season, at 11v11.

Maybe not in the same club. I would like to see if I can get a contract with a club at a higher level.

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