Amputee football, a sport that has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. From live television broadcasts to Sure deodorant adverts, amputee footballers in the UK are popularising the sport year-on-year.
Meet Sean Jackson – born in the Isle of Man, Sean represents Everton at club level, and is an England international.
But his story starts in 2001, when his parents, Rachel and Adrian, made the decision for Sean to have his lower right leg amputated.
Jackson said: “One of my earliest memories was as a toddler, and it used to hurt wearing my (prosthetic) leg, so my dad used to carry me about because I couldn’t walk.
“Because I was high up in my dad’s arms, I always remember knocking snow onto my brother’s head when we were on holiday.”
His brother Alex is three years older, and although Sean wasn’t picked on by his classmates at school, he does remember occasions where his brother was there to stick up for him.
Throughout his childhood, Sean played a variety of sports, but football always led the way, and in his early years he joined a local football team as the goalkeeper.
This allowed him to play able-bodied football, just like everyone else and bizarrely Sean was right-footed.
“I would use my prosthetic leg to kick the ball and because I was a goalkeeper, I only really needed to use that foot for goal kicks and the odd pass back,” he said.
At the age of 16, the Manx lad moved from the senior league on the island to amputee football and began playing for Manchester City.
Here he learnt the rules of the game, as well as how to play football on crutches.
Jackson moved into defence, and this meant he had to play without his prosthetic leg and so had to figure out how to use his left foot, as well as other factors.
He said: “The fitness side of things was one of the hardest parts when moving over, and getting used to playing on crutches, and then actually having to strike the ball with my left foot.”
It didn’t take long for the young footballer to catch the eyes of the national team, and he received his first call up at the age of 17.
Since then, he has featured in a European Championship and a World Cup, and he won a Champions League third-place medal for Manchester City.
A young man striving for greatness, Sean didn’t stop there – completing a university degree alongside his sporting achievements.
He studied Football Coaching and Management at UCFB, graduated last year, and is now coaching junior amputee teams.
When asked if Sean considered himself a role model to these young footballers, he said: “I think it’s important for them to see what we (the national team players) are like and try and sell the dream that it’s possible to go through the junior programme – showing it is possible for them to be able to go to a World Cup or a Euro’s.”
With all his success on the pitch, the 22-year-old has also found himself in the spotlight in recent times – starring in TV adverts for the likes of BT Sport and Sure deodorant.
Featuring alongside other amputee footballers, and athletes, Sean says it has been a great experience.
“You get treated like some sort of superstar when you go, it is mad how well they look after you,” he said.
“You’re on set with 20 to 30 people, and there’s lots of big cameras, and you’re getting your make-up done and weird things like that, that I’ve never done before.”
Sean believes these opportunities are great publicity for amputee football, with the adverts airing on the UK’s biggest TV channels.
“I remember the first time the BT sport advert came out and it was right before Love Island and to think of the amount of people that would have seen that,” said Sean, who now plays for Everton.
“And then the Sure deodorant ones were out for well over a year, and airing before big football games and it brings so much more awareness to amputee football.”
The disability sport has opened up an array of opportunities for many young footballers, with Sean Jackson as just an example.
From football matches on live television, to adverts before Love Island, Jackson still has a long career ahead of him, with many more life experiences on the horizon.