He’s represented his country over 160 times, scoring countless goals and winning a number of medals along the way. The chances are, however, that none of this would have happened if his self-proclaimed “terrible” debut for England was the beginning and end of his international career.

Darren Harris is one English football’s most decorated blind players, and has represented Great Britain in football and judo at two different Paralympics. His story is as incredible as it is inspiring, as UCFB found out recently.

After being spotted playing in a blind league and then getting invited along to train with the England team, Harris recounted his debut for the national team in 1996: “I remember my first game – I was absolutely terrible”, he says with a smile. “I came on as a substitute and was taken off after about two minutes because I was that bad! It’s a story that the coach has told countless players that have come after me because it’s a reminder that success doesn’t always come straight away.”

YouTube video

If success for Harris didn’t come straight away on the international scene, it certainly followed. Ten world and European medals, plus the chance to represent Team GB at London 2012, are tribute to that.

Reflecting further on his England debut, Harris explained the difficulties he had adapting to the rules for blind international football. He said: “The challenge for me was that I still had a bit of light perception in those days, and putting on the blindfold really disorientated me. So when the coach said ‘Darren, you’re going on now’, I put on the blindfold, walked on the pitch and just didn’t know where I was.”

He continued: “I was running into players and running into the boards, I was really lost out there. Really it was mercy that he took me off for my own protection, and for everybody else!”

However, not one to shy away from the challenge, Harris knuckled down, refined his skill and went on to become an all-time England great. 

Explaining to UCFB his determination to keep on playing for his country, Harris finished: “I learnt from that experience, and I was absolutely buzzing. I was probably one of the youngest players in the team, and I was looking at all of these older guys just knowing I was going to take their place. I was like, ‘I’m coming for you!’ That’s how I looked at it.”

Darren Harris was talking to Mark Clemmit as part of the UCFB Insight Series.