It’s been a long road for Dan English on his football journey so far.
The Para Lions captain is currently in Rome with the England blind squad as they target glory at the IBSA European Championship and a spot at next year’s Paralympics in Tokyo.
It all seems very distant from the streets of Sunderland where English first began to hone his football skills as a sighted toddler, before he lost his sight fully at the age of nine.
“I’m from the north-east originally, a die-hard Sunderland fan for my sins,” revealed English, after scoring his second goal of the week in the 3-0 win over Greece.
“I used to have sight when I was younger so I would just play with my friends in the street or have a kick-about with my dad.
“So I managed to get a lot of practise back then, an idea of the techniques and got a good understanding of eleven-a-side football on the school playground.
“I went completely blind when I was nine which obviously made that much harder, but I carried on playing when I lost my sight, just with my close friends and family.”
But it was years later, when English was studying at Loughborough University and was spotted by former England blind boss Tony Larkin, that he discovered blind football.
Over a 100 caps later and with experiences at World Cups and Paralympics under his belt, he admits it’s something which has changed his life.
“I really didn’t know anything about blind football until I got to college, when I first got scouted and introduced to it by the team manager at the time,” he said.
“He invited me to a training camp and it just progressed from there, I went to more camps, and played in games before I went to the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford in 2009.
“That was when I first worked with Jon [Pugh, current England blind coach] really closely and trained in the year leading up to the World Cup.
“It’s just gone on from there really and here we are.”
The 28-year-old has been one of England’s key performers at the Euros so far, as they negotiated a busy period of four games in four days in the group stage.
After scoring the winner over Germany in the opening game, he then saw a penalty saved in the game with France the following day before the Para Lions salvaged a deserved draw against current Euro champions Russia.
But Friday’s win against Greece ensured a spot in the semi-finals against Spain, in which he's anticipating another tricky game.
“We’ve had a tough group and every game has been a real slog to ensure we got the results we needed to get where we need to be,” he added.
“It’s been difficult, more for the staff really because they’ve had to really organised with the preparations and our recovery and then the tactics because we’ve not really had much turnaround time between games.
“So it’s probably been harder on them than it has for the players, but thankfully we’ve got a very fit squad and we’ve used the players quite well to keep players fresh.
“I think coming back and the way we did [against Russia] was a definite bonus, but the real highlight for me was the performance against France.
“As a whole team performance, we did well against a side who I think will be there or thereabouts towards the end of the tournament so it was very good to have that as a test.
“It’s been building blocks really to get the final product and we’ve trained really hard over the past year to get to this point.”
After Friday’s early game, English and his squad mates will be maximising their time to recharge before they’re back in action on Sunday afternoon.
And whoever the Para Lions find themselves lining up against, English is experienced to know it won’t be easy.
“The rest period now is definitely going to be key for us, there’ll be lots of sleeping and stretching and some tactical work,” he revealed.
“It’s just about being able to chill out and get what we need to be able to perform on Sunday.
“But I feel as though we’ve got enough in the locker to go out there and get the win.”
Watch Sunday’s semi-final with Spain live on the FISPIC YouTube channel from 2pm.FIND OUT MORE ABOUT DISABILITY FOOTBALL IN ENGLAND