Disability news

Jack Grealish sends inspiring video message to disabled teen footballer

Jack Grealish with  Bryan Kilpatrick-Elliott

Even though Jack Grealish is not playing in the Euros this year, he is still scoring goals off the pitch supporting the disabled community.

Bryan Kilpatrick-Elliott knows what it’s like not to be picked for games - his cerebral palsy proved a barrier playing for mainstream youth clubs.

But the England system based at St George’s Park overlooked the teenager’s disability, he joined the team ten years ago - but now he’s older Bryan is facing another challenge.

To qualify for the para-football system players need to undergo a medical before moving forward to the next step of the program when they reach the age of 16.

Byran, from Doncaster, was assured he would pass, but was devastated last year when he was told he failed his assessment.

He left St George’s Park in 2023, with a bleak future that he would never play para-football on a professional level.

His dad, also called Bryan, told Manchester Evening News: “He is not disabled enough for para football but too disabled for competitive mainstream football.

"They said it's not good news, you're not disabled enough to put you through this classification ruling and you won't carry on with the program. Elite sport is brutal at any level, but because it was never considered or mentioned beforehand, you literally walk out of that building and it's the end of the whole thing.

"He obviously took the news quite badly, he's still a bit lost with where he fits and where he can go. As much as organisations promote that football is for all, mainstream football isn't a place for children who struggle with physical or emotional disabilities.”

The disappointed dad continued: "He was in a difficult place, ready to give up, he's played from the age of eight to 16 and given so much time. We travel every week to Manchester and sacrificed a lot, and now they won't let him play the sport designed for him. How can someone born with a condition not be eligible to play in a sport represented by that condition?

"He said if he'd gone through an academy and told he wasn't a good enough player, he'd have been disappointed but he could have taken it that he did everything and didn't reach the level. To be told that you're good enough but a rule set by an independent body means there's no going back, there's no other system in the world that doesn't have another route available."

Knowing his son was upset, Bryan decided to reach out to Manchester City player Jack Grealish, whose sister Hollie also has cerebral palsy.

He was shocked when the star footballer sent a personalised video which Bryan showed his son last year.

In the ten-minute message Grealish tells teenage Bryan: “Keep your head up, mate, keep playing football with a big smile on your face.

"We all have setbacks in life and stuff we don’t want to hear, but it’s how you react to that. I’ve had plenty in my time.

“Keep up the hard work, mate, keep your head up. I know how much you love football and also the work you’ve been doing in raising awareness for cerebral palsy and disabilities in football, so keep that up. I’m proud of you; keep playing and never give up on your dreams and never stop playing football."

The video lifted Bryan’s spirits, the teenager - who is now 17 - took his hero’s advice by beginning his coaching badges hoping to become a professional para-footballer showing dedication to the game making three-and-a-half hour round journeys to South Yorkshire.

But, since he was turned down by the classification decision he can’t participate in any competitive game.

His dad said:  "As much as I know he wants to play, I hope his experience and his journey, maybe he can help the next generation and stop something like this happening to someone else. It's similar to the way Jack reached out to him and gave him that support.

"To see how much interest Jack took in Bryan's story throughout the years, and recognise some of the work Bryan has done, it was more than saying 'unlucky', there was a personal touch. Ironically we're both massive Manchester United fans, but Jack is one of those players like Gazza who everyone wanted to be in the playground. He's this generation's version of that. Even though he plays for the Blue side, anytime Jack's on the pitch, Bryan is invested.

"When we heard the news Jack didn't get in the England squad this summer, we remembered the video he sent. It was desperately needed at the time. Whether Jack will ever know the impact a minute video will have, it definitely helped. When we heard the news about Jack not making the Euro's squad this year, it reminded us and highlighted what a good person he is."

[ You can watch Jack Grealish’s video message to Bryan on X. ]

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