Dina Murdie: Goalball’s golden girl

Dina Murdie at the northern regions novice and intermediate goalball tournament (Credit: Jack Thomas)

In the history of all sports there are key moments which shape the trajectory of the sports success, moments which help to shape the sport in its entirety, moments that propel it to new heights.
Football had the first international game between England and Scotland in 1872, Cricket had the first test match between Australia and England in 1877, events that laid solid foundations for which the sports legacy could be built on. Likewise, to key events there are also key people, figures who transcend the sport, who are instrumental to the sports success, influencing multiple facets of the game. Dina Murdie is one of those people. Dina’s contribution to the sport of goalball and the blind community has been considerable throughout her storied career, from teaching at a school for the visually impaired to coaching and refereeing Paralympic athletes, helping to change lives of athletes not just in the north west but also nationwide. Such an incredible story deserves to be told, so I sat down with the legend of the sport herself to discuss her incredible tale.

Q: When did you first start working with the visually impaired?

I first started working with the visually impaired as a PE teacher, as i first worked in a mainstream school but then at my training college we had to learn about sports for people with an impairment of some sort and i happened to sign up for a school in the Lickey Hills for the visually impaired.I just thought go for it and i did and ended up actually getting it, it was amazing i had no experience at all.

Q: How long did your teaching career last?

About 33 years. I taught mainstream for three years and then i went into special with the visually impaired and i was there for 30 years.

Q: What was your introduction to goalball?

That was in the early 80’s. My counterpart at the school in Worcester i worked at got involved in taking a group to Poland and when he came back said that they were starting a goalball association in Great Britain and we ought to start a women’s team, so should i come and show you what to do?So i said yes please, I’m willing to try anything so he came over and got us started.

Q: How did you start working in the Paralympics?

Well in 1986 there was a European championships in Milton Keynes and the women won the bronze medal. I have to say the it was nothing like the standard that the women play now because the sport was so little well known back then. However, because we got the bronze medal we then got a place at the Seoul Paralympics in 1988. It was a fantastic experience i couldn’t believe i was there, we were in this amazing stadium and living in this big village with amazing apartments. We took five players and two coaches, which were me and a girl called Nicki and the guy who taught us Clive was out there as a referee.

Q: What was the representation of goalball like back in 1988?

There was no media coverage or anything like that, we had no media training, it was televised in Seoul but not back home, there was so little coverage. Communication was so hard, i sent postcards and that was it in those days, you didn’t have great computer coverage or anything like that.

Q: Did goalball get more exposure after that Paralympics?

Not really no. I think the one that really helped was London 2012 because the committees sold blocks of tickets, so you might get the Athletics and Wheelchair Basketball but you might get one for goalball, so people came to the sport without having a clue what it was. Months later i was running a training course in London and someone said they came to see it at the Paralympics because i got a ticket to the Copper box.

Q: What were the crowds like at 2012?

Amazing. We were in a little court i the middle which was great but keeping the crowd quiet was difficult because they didn’t know the sport. I told the guy in charge of the sport if someone at the start of each game could explain this to the crowd it would really help. So he said okay Dina w’ll sort that out and you can do it. So, before each game i would be given a microphone and explain that the sport is for the visually impaired and there is a bell in the ball the players need to be able to hear.

Q:Did this help?

Yes it helped tremendously which was good, i was also a referee out there.

Q: How many games did you referee?

Everyday, i think we got one afternoon off. It was lovely one of my most memorable things in goalball really.

Q: So what was your most memorable moment in goalball?

he ladies semi-final in London because i can almost replay the game. It was Japan vs Sweden, Japan scored in the first half minute and looked like they would win and then Sweden scored in the last minute. We then had overtime of two halves of three minutes but no one scored so it went to extra throws, sort of like a penalty shoot-out. There was six in each team and it finished 3-3 so it went to sudden death extra throws and Japan scored and Sweden didn’t, so they won. Things like that just stay in your mind, my favourite moment from goalball. London was amazing because i had this other role to play, i trained all the goal judges, i refereed that amazing semi-final and because of that got to referee the final, so London 2012 were my best memories.

Q: So just how many Paralympics have you been to?

Seoul 88, Barcelona 92, Atlanta 96, Sydney 2000, Athens 04, Beijing 08, London 2012, Rio 2016 and I’d love to go to Tokyo 2020 I don’t want to be at home watching it on the television. I refereed in London and Athens I was with the women’s squad in Seoul I was with the men’s squad in Sydney, I was a minor official in Atlanta and Beijing and I was with the swimmers in Barcelona and I went out to Rio as a volunteer.

Q: What would you say has been the biggest change over those Paralympics?

The media coverage has been much better, which can help grow the sport. goalball isn’t a rich sport like football so we can’t pay for the coverage, so now it’s on television and the internet it has helped tremendously.

Q: What’s the extent of your work with Swimming?

While working at visually impaired school i took them British blind sport swimming galas and some got good enough to go to the Paralympic training so took them here there and everywhere and fortunately in 1992 i was attached to the swimming team, so got to see them swim in Barcelona.

Q: After such an illustrious career whats the motivation now?

To see visually impaired people play sport because they deserve to play, they need to play as much as anyone who is sighted. Imagine being competitive and you weren’t able to play because no one gives you the opportunity, that would be awful. I think everyone should have those opportunities, not everyone takes them but they should be there for those who do.

Q: You received the British Empire medal last year what was that like?

incredible, it’s one you don’t go to the palace for so i received it at the Guild Hall in Worcester and was presented by the queens representative for the county. The best thing was that because it wasn’t presented at the palace where you can only invite two or three people we were told we could invite up to 20 people. Goalball UK put me forward but i’d also been very heavily involved in swimming and skiing for the visually impaired. So, I could bring together these people and say thank you for what they had done and what we had all done for sport for the visually impaired.

Dina receiving her British Empire medal in 2018 from Prince Edward (Credit: Torchtrophytrust.org)

Q: Finally, what do you now do in your spare time?

I play in a table tennis league and also coach it. I’ve always been a games player but the games have changed over the years. When i was youthful i was a county netball player, then Badminton because i wanted to make sure i could play if it rained. I had a bad summer one year because it rained every time i went to play tennis, i played a lot of tennis all through school and now it has gone to table tennis.

Dina deserves every bit of recognition she receives for her services to the sport, she has helped to propel the sport in the north-west in a multitude of ways, whether it’s training athletes, starting clubs or refereeing games. Her contribution to the sport is nothing short of outstanding, a career spanning over three decades which has seen her do it all, from going to eight Paralympic games to receiving an honour from the Queen. If goalball were to ever have a hall of fame i can think of no greater inductee than Dina Murdie.