Jack Rutter: Premier League apprentice to Paralympic hopeful

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Media captionThe footballer was left with brain damage after being injured in an unprovoked attack on a night out

At 18, Jack Rutter was an aspiring Premier League footballer who had spent eight years with the Birmingham City Academy.

But in 2009, just months before he was due to find out if he would be offered a professional contract, he was punched to the ground on a night out in Gloucester.

The unprovoked assault left him with brain damage and deaf in one ear. His professional football career was over before it had begun.

Four years on though, he has been given a second footballing chance as the captain of the England Cerebral Palsy (CP) squad.

And the experience has made him set his sights on leading out a Great Britain side at the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

'Long dark tunnel'

The 23-year-old said it had been "an absolute dream to play for a professional club, especially when Birmingham City got into the Premier League".

Six years after signing to the Blues, he became a full-time apprentice and went on to help book the youth side a place in the FA Youth Cup semi-finals in 2009.

Image caption The promising young right-back was signed to the Birmingham City Academy at the age of 10

"I was playing for a Premier League team, training with top pros; it was an unbelievable experience."

Weeks later, a punch to the face left the teenager in hospital with a fractured skull and a brain haemorrhage.

His attacker was sentenced to 12 months in a young offenders' institute.

In hospital, he said he "was told I wouldn't be able to do this, I wouldn't be able to do that, but I was determined to prove people wrong".

"When the realisation did set in, it was horrific," he said.

"My core motion and balance was severely affected - I lost total use of balance on one side because of the deafness and the brain injury.

"So, I couldn't even walk straight [or] stand up straight - I'd be wobbly."

Jack's mother Francesca Rutter said the period after the attack was very difficult for her son.

"It was a long, long dark tunnel for a very long time and he's had some very dark moments," she explained.

"But he's a very strong, very courageous young man.

"A lot of people, it probably would have just floored them, but he's strong and resilient and I'm hoping for good things for him in the future."

'He's a winner'

Less than a year ago, the 23-year-old took up an offer of a trial for the seven-a-side England CP team, which is also open to players with "acquired head injuries".

It went so well that in September, he was made captain of the squad and is now back in training at the Football Association's facility at St George's Park in Staffordshire.

"I saw some inherent qualities that Jack possesses that I felt we needed," said Keith Mayer, head coach of the CP Squad.

"One of them is leadership.

"He's a winner and from his background being in a professional club, that helps and brings a great deal to our party."

Ranked 10th in the world, the team is still in development but they are aiming for at least top five in the European Championships in Portugal next July.

"[The squad] all have our own stories to tell about how we got here and I'm no different," he said.

"But, it's an absolutely amazing feeling and I'm going to try and grab it with both hands.

"You're never expected to have this chance again - to wear the three lions and play for my country.

"I want to captain a GB team in the Paralympics in Rio in 2016 - that's the dream."

If all goes well in Portugal, that dream could yet come true.

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