An unsung hero with a clear message

Yannick Cavallin (BodenseeKickers) 
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  • BodenseeKickers the first PluSport footballers in the Swiss canton of Thurgau
  • The integration of disability football is a cause close to Yannick Cavallin’s heart
  • "You can achieve so much through football"

What do you think of when you hear the phrase "footballing hero"? It might bring to mind the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have claimed all manner of individual and collective prizes.

But there are also unsung heroes away from the spotlight who are striving to make a difference through football. Yannick Cavallin is a prime example.

Cavallin has been running the BodenseeKickers, a football team for people with disabilities, for several years now. He dedicates his time to tackling social exclusion and championing integration for the disabled.

"As a Scout leader, I’m used to standing up for people on the fringes of society," he explained. "I couldn’t watch how people pointed fingers at them. I saw these people differently; I noticed that they have special skills and that you get something from them that you don’t often experience in everyday life – appreciation. They are grateful for everything you do."

Cavallin came across the BodenseeKickers when looking for a suitable sports group for his son. "I had known for some time that there was a group that trained in Scherzingen on Saturdays and said to myself: 'Let’s go and take a look'," he recalled.

"At first our son really didn’t want to go. He’s very tall, standing at over two metres. He has issues with his motor skills and has also been diagnosed with autistic tendencies. Although he does not have autism, he has autistic spectrum disorders. When we joined the group, it was the perfect fit from the very beginning."

It proved to be a fateful day for both father and son. "When I arrived at the sports group, they were still looking for a leader. I told them I’d be glad to do it and that I wanted to try and improve acceptance in society."

Much has happened since then. Thanks to Cavallin’s tireless efforts, the BodenseeKickers entered into a partnership with FC Kreuzlingen three years ago and continue to make the most of this opportunity. "We’re very well accepted within the club," he explained. "At the start there was still a bit of distance and we had to build the relationship very slowly, which is totally normal. Now the partnership is slowly blossoming.

"The first-team players are happy to see us on the touchline, and are glad to train with us too. Players come to show us different drills in training, or the first-team coach might stop by. In short, the whole thing is coming together, and acceptance is gradually improving," Cavallin said. It comes as no surprise to hear that many of his Kickers have become FC Kreuzlingen fans and have grown in confidence as a result of this collaboration.

Yet this is not just about football. Cavallin and the club are on hand around the clock to help their players resolve financial issues, fill in forms or write applications – all in their free time. "They realise I don’t just have football on the brain. It’s about the bigger picture. You can achieve so much through football, but I want even more. I want it to feel like a family."

Cavallin’s volunteer work has not gone unnoticed. He was nominated for one Swiss TV channel’s 'Everyday Hero' award three years ago and used the opportunity to raise the BodenseeKickers’ profile even further, while other teams also benefited. The number of enquiries and players is growing all the time. Where once there might have been six or seven players on the pitch, now there are 15 or more. It is pioneering work that has yet to be matched.

Nevertheless, more work still needs to be done to ensure that disability football is not just "viewed from the sidelines”, as Cavallin stresses. "I think higher-profile football clubs should get involved. It’s not just a matter of integration - it’s about ensuring player inclusion too."

To learn more about the BodenseeKickers and Yannick Cavallin’s work, click HERE.

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