Having only competed at the Paralympic Games in Rio a matter of months ago, JACK RUTTER could be mistaken for a man who is living the dream – representing the nation where he was born playing the sport he loves. Whilst he still has great pride at achieving such a feat, life could have been all so different if it wasn’t for an incident that changed everything in 2009.
Only 18 years of age at the time, Rutter was just months away from potentially signing a professional contract at Birmingham City. That ambition never came to fruition, however, as an unprovoked attack during a night out in Gloucester resulted in serious injuries. Jack sustained brain damage and he was also left deaf in one ear after a single punch – his life was turned upside down.
He told me: “The whole thing was hugely upsetting and demoralising for me and my family.
“It affected my Mum and Dad’s relationship and they ended up separating shortly afterwards. My brother is autistic so it really affected him and my sister, Roz, was studying for a law degree and it put immense pressure on her.
“I was broken-hearted, I thought I had lost my true passion in life – football.”
When Jack came to the realisation that his burning ambition to become a professional footballer was no longer possible, he was also shattered after acknowledging that his back-up plan was no longer an option either.
He stated: “I believe I would have made a career out of the game and I am adamant that I had the physical and mental attributes to become a success.
“My ‘plan b’ was always to continue playing football maybe at semi-professional level if I wasn’t offered a contract, but I wanted to join the police alongside that. Obviously with the injuries I suffered it became impossible for me to do that too.”
That mental toughness Jack believes would have stood him in good stead as he chased his dreams came in incredibly handy as he began to write a truly inspirational story. With the 11-a-side game out of the equation, he was offered a lifeline in the form of Cerebral Palsy football – a 7-a-side version solely for disabled participants.
“I was visiting Headway – a brain injury charity – for assistance with my condition and I decided to ask them if they knew of any disability sports that I could possibly get involved with.
“They spoke to the Nottinghamshire FA and they informed me that I could play for the East Midlands Cerebral Palsy team as it was open to people with acquired brain injuries too.
“I had no idea what to expect, but when I met the players and staff I found it to be very inspiring. When I was made aware that there was an opportunity to play for England and Great Britain in major tournaments, I knew it was my second chance to make it in the game.”
That enjoyment and sense of freedom you get when playing football helped Jack along with his rehabilitation, and after a lot of intense training, he was called up to the national squad.
“It is a huge honour pulling on your country’s shirt in huge tournaments such as the Intercontinental Cup and the European Championships.” Jack expressed.
“Captaining the side at the European Championships and World Championships was absolutely amazing. Leading Team GB to our best finish at a Paralympics for around three decades was also an achievement of mine that I will cherish forever.
Most recently, the midfielder wore the armband at the Rio 2016 Paralympics in Brazil, but it did not prove to be a successful tournament. Great Britain failed to progress past a group consisting of Brazil, Ireland and 2008 champions Ukraine. Jack insists the team were “unlucky” as they bowed out of the competition.
He added: “We were drawn against the top two seeded sides in Brazil and Ukraine and we narrowly lost to both. We should have got at least a draw against Brazil in our opening game but it wasn’t to be.
“We did comfortably beat Ireland and Argentina, however, and that secured our highest finish at a games for 30 years. All of us were gutted that we didn’t win a medal but I was proud of our accomplishments.”
Despite losing out, the captain is confident that he and the rest of the Cerebral Palsy football team will clinch success sooner rather than later.
“It was an unbelievable learning experience and it was a joy to be involved with. We all grew as men and footballers out there and I firmly believe we can win a tournament in the next four to eight years.”
Although he has forged a very successful career, Jack often thinks about what could have been. However, he is flourishing as an iconic figure in the world of Cerebral Palsy football and he is set to become McDonalds’ ambassador for disability sport.
“It is in the early stages at the moment but it will involve me coaching disabled players and talking to them about my story, meeting families and raising the profile of the clubs in this country. I am very excited by the opportunity.
“I am immensely proud of what I have managed to achieve and it makes me very happy to know I have the chance to inspire the next generation.
“My aim is to continue playing the game and work within sport to help others for many years to come.”
You can follow Jack Rutter on Twitter @JackRutter2