World Down Syndrome Day, today, 21 March, is a global awareness day which has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012. The 21st day of the third month, was selected given the significance of the number 21 – Down’s syndrome occurs when an individual has an extra partial (or whole) copy of chromosome 21.
To help celebrate the day, we invited the Brentford Penguins FC to our recent game against Burnley. The Brentford Penguins FC is a football programme run by club legend, Allan Cockram. Their sessions based at Gunnersbury Park are open to anyone with Down’s syndrome aged eight and over. The Penguins squad features Woody O’Rourke, one of our very well-known fans who captured the nation’s hearts after his celebratory hug with Thomas Frank after the first game of the season against Arsenal.
We met up with the Penguins before the game and spoke to some of the parents and participants in the video below.
Talking about the impact of Allan Cockram, Natalie O’Rourke said: “He just embraces football and Down’s syndrome. He makes it fun but they are also learning and progressing.”
The Brentford Penguins is open to players with Down’s syndrome, but they also encourage parents and siblings to join in, giving them an activity that they can enjoy together.
Vanessa Rowley, one of the other parents involved with the Penguins, discussed the need for those with Down’s syndrome to have a fulfilling social life: “We join (the sessions) once a week and have lots of fun. It’s all about experience. It's all about exposure. It's recognising that kids and adults with Down’s syndrome enjoy the same things that everybody else does.”
Talking about the relationship which she and Woody have with Brentford, Natalie explained the importance of looking beyond the disability. She said: “It feels like the club don’t see Down’s syndrome first, they see Woody as Woody and they do everything possible to accommodate.”
Natalie concluded with a strong message about how supported she feels within the community: “There is nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. There is a whole community to support you. Brentford is our community, Brentford is our family. And it is not full of people with Down’s syndrome but it is full of people who understand and care.”
To find out more about the work the club does in the community get in touch with us at [email protected] If you’d like to support the Brentford Penguins FC or enquire about their sessions, visit brentfordpenguinsfc.com.