Over the years there have been many sporting siblings – tennis has the Williams sisters and the Charlton and Neville families won the lot in football. But now goalball has its own – the Roper brothers.
Dom (31), Dan (29) and Joe (21), from March in Cambridgeshire, play for local club Fen Tigers, while Dan and Joe also represent Great Britain.
The trio have been instrumental as Fen Tigers have won the first two elite level Goalball UK National League competitions of the 2019/20 season – finding the net a staggering 115 times along the way.
Each of the brothers has retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition, but this has never diminished their determination to achieve sporting excellence. Like many blind and visually impaired people, from a young age they had the desire to compete in team sports against their peers, but the resources and facilities were not available for them to participate safely.
That was until Dan discovered goalball while studying at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford. He excelled with the opportunity to play a sport on a level playing field and quickly became a starting player for the national team.
When he returned home to March after his studies, Dan was excited to continue playing the sport he loved during his time at college and wanted to encourage other blind and visually impaired people in the community to take up the sport. What’s more, his brothers had seen the impact that the sport had on Dan and also wanted to give it a go.
Taking the initiative and enlisting the help of mum Emma, they successfully applied for a Sport England start-up grant and with support from Neale Wade Sports Centre, went about setting up a new club.
Fen Tigers officially launched in January 2016. With the brothers on court and Emma coaching on the touchline, the club has gone on to become one of the most successful goalball clubs in the UK.
With a number of teams in their ranks at novice, intermediate and elite level, Fen Tigers has so far managed to collect seven league and national trophies, as well as a number of individual accolades. One of the most pivotal moments in the clubs short yet esteemed history was becoming the first British team to take home the gold medal at the Malmö Open European Goalball tournament in 2019.
As well as playing, refereeing, coaching and running Fen Tigers, Emma also tirelessly promotes the sport and fundraises for Goalball UK, the nationally governing body and registered charity. In the last few years, Emma has helped raise over £75,000 which has created goalball opportunities for visually impaired people across the UK, helping to reduce isolation in this community by harnessing the power of team sport.
On the international stage, youngest brother Joe recently broke into the Great Britain senior team. He recently lined up with Dan as they helped Great Britain to a sixth-place finish at the Pajulahti Games in Finland, the prestigious parasport competition.
Dom said: “Dan and Joe are the two people I know better than anyone else and I think that is reflected in our performances for Fen Tigers. We have a great understanding of how each other likes to play and we complement each other’s games almost perfectly.”
Dan said: “I can’t describe how happy and proud I am when I am on the goalball court with my brothers. There is no sibling rivalry between us, we all support each other and push each other to greater things. As brothers we have a natural connection and this has helped us play really well and go on to win medals in the Goalball UK National League.”
Joe said: “Playing goalball with my older brothers has really helped me improve my game, they have taught me so much about the sport. My ambition is to represent Great Britain at the Paralympics in 2024. It’s fantastic to know that my family is in my corner backing me to reach my full potential.”
Emma said: “Goalball has really helped my sons develop a number of skills that could have been difficult for them to possess with their condition. It gives all visually impaired players extra confidence and presents many opportunities within the goalball community.
“As they get older, it is amazing that we have something that we can do as a family. We spend so much time together playing goalball and that is always something I will always cherish.”