By Duncan Mackay

Tony LarkinJanuary 19 - Tony Larkin has been replaced as head coach of the England and Great Britain blind football team after 17 years in charge by Graham Keeley. 

Larkin, who made over 450 appearances for teams including Wrexham, Shrewsbury Town, Carlisle and Hereford United, admitted he was surprised at the decision by the Football Association. 

The 57-year-old has been involved in blind football since 1989 and his first international match was against Spain in Madrid in 1995.

Larkin's assistant, Jon Pugh, has also been replaced. 

"The FA are going to utilise their own staff and replace Jon and me with fresh voices," Larkin told The Hereford Times.

"The decision was a shock but football is a funny game.

"Working alongside British Blind Sport, I built a team capable of competing at international level and was proud to see us take bronze at the first European Championships for the blind in 1997.

"We have not dropped out of the top three in Europe since."

But Britain finished a disappointing seventh out of eight teams in Paralympics at London 2012.

Tony Larkin with Team GB blind teamTony Larkin (fourth from right in back row) led Britain at London 2012 but they finished a disappointing seventh out of eight teams 

Larkin is head of sport and recreation at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford, where England and Britain's teams have been based. 

But the England blind squad are holding their next training session at St George's Park, the FA's new state-of-the-art National Football Centre, near Burton-upon-Trent.

Keeley is a full-time member of FA staff, who has been in charge of the England partially-sighted team.

"We had a look at the team's results over the last four years and the real problem was ever since 2009 when they beat Spain in the semi-final of the European Championship, they have not beaten a team ranked above them," said Jeff Davis, the FA national disability officer.

"The team has drawn a lot of games and have not been able to turn draws into wins.

"We felt we needed a change and we looked to bring the running of the blind team in-house.

"It's a culmination of results over a period of time and, at the Paralympics, we could not turn draws into wins over Spain and Argentina when we need to."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]