England’s Cerebral Palsy captain Jack Rutter says getting involved in disability sport has changed his life – and has urged others to follow suit.
Rutter, 24, was an academy player at Birmingham City before an unprovoked attack during a night out in 2009 left him with brain damage and completely deaf in one ear.
He had to retire from professional football at the age of 18 – and his career seemed over before it had even begun.
But six years on he is preparing to lead host nation England at the CP World Championships.
“CP football changed my life,” he told TheFA.com. "I wasn’t playing football at all and the opportunity to play disability football came along and I never looked back."
Rutter was speaking at the Together For England Roadshow event at West Bromwich Albion’s Academy, a stone’s throw from their Hawthorns home.
The Academy is also home to Sporting Club Albion – a collection of disability teams run by the club-backed Albion Foundation.
Alongside the CP captain there were five other England players at the event.
As well as Rutter’s CP team-mate Harry Baker, Under-21s striker Saido Berahino, women’s international Sophie Bradley and Under-20s pair Kortney Hause and Dominic Iorfa were also in attendance.
And Rutter says such events are invaluable to football fans – of all levels and abilities.
"It gives them a chance to go and play, express themselves, get them fit and active, making new friends and meet a few players as well,” he continued.
"I'm really happy there are places like West Brom working in these areas and holding these sort of events.
"It's not all about ability, it’s about participation. It’s getting people out there, playing sport."
The 2015 CP World Championships will take place at St. George’s Park between 12-28 June.
And while Rutter plays the game at the elite level, the Gloucester-born midfielder was keen to emphasise the importance of getting the message of inclusion out to all.
"It’s not just about us and the World Championships, it’s about saying to people out there with disabilities that they’ve got a chance to go and play,” he added.
"There are people out there who suffer from a disability – whether they are born with it or acquire it later in their lives – and want to play sport, but are perhaps lacking in confidence.
"To those people I would say just get out there and do it. Not matter what your ability or disability, there are outlets out there for you."
Meanwhile, director of the Albion Foundation Rob Lake, said the Roadshow had been an overwhelming success.
“It’s been a brilliant day,” he said. “The more opportunities that we can provide for these guys like this is great.
"You can see from the smiles on their faces how much it means to them.
"The CP guys are massive role models for anybody who has got a disability.
"It’s great to have players like Saido Berahino here, but these guys can connect probably more to the CP guys.
"Going down to St. George’s Park for the World Championships to see it will inspire them even more to go and try and do it as well.
"Like any type of football, they’re not all going to make it – but they can all have a dream and that’s what days like today are all about."
Laura Hall, an Albion Foundation player and coach for the PAN Disability Girls’ team and Blind Teams, added: “It’s a massive inspiration to see players that regardless of their disability have been able to pick up a football and get involved in the beautiful game.
"That’s a great thing to aspire to achieve – and that’s what we work towards on a weekly basis. It’s about bashing down every barrier that a disability puts up.”