Meet the blind footballer from Denmead who is set to represent England on the world stage

Brandon Coleman
Brandon Coleman
0
Have your say

Brandon Coleman wasn’t meant to play football again.

At the age of 17, a genetic condition deprived him of sight. Within six weeks, initial symptoms had brutally degenerated into blindness.

Movement now necessitated a cane. The talented central midfielder with Sunday League outfit Denmead had to acknowledge packing away his boots.

Yet on Sunday, Coleman will represent England on the world stage.

The Waterlooville youngster’s tenacity has ensured his participation in the 2018 IBSA Blind Football World Championships.

Since handed an international debut in March 2016, he has featured 34 times for his country, amassing 13 goals, during a journey circumnavigating France, Spain, Japan, Germany and Belgium.

During a remorseless aftermath to his blindness, Coleman sunk into depression and developed an over-reliance on drugs and alcohol to mask his agony.

A neighbour who befriended him was even imprisoned for 20 months after burgling his Leigh Park flat during the former Crookhorn School pupil’s ongoing battle to adapt to his condition.

Now the 23-year-old has the opportunity to demonstrate his ability in the Madrid-based tournament, starting with Mali on Saturday at 1pm in England’s Group D encounter.

‘If anything, my life is better than when I had my sight. I have a girlfriend, my friends respect me more, I’m playing blind football. My life is perfect now,’ said Coleman.

‘I didn’t think I would ever say that – it’s perfect and I am blind.

‘I wake up in the morning now and I am happy, I cannot complain about anything, I have everything.

‘I would love to be able to see again, I would love to, but I have everything I want, I am happy. I have stability and everything I need.

‘Football changed my life. It gave me something back after losing my sight, from a time when I was doing things I shouldn’t. Football has given me so much drive.

‘It has given me something I can believe in, something good to come out of a bad situation. I’m playing for England and hopefully I can make an impact and prove I can succeed on the world stage.

‘I believe becoming the best blind player in the world is achievable - and I’ll continue working hard to do that.’

Coleman suffers from Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, a condition which primarily strikes people in their teens and twenties.

His grandma suffered blindness at the age of 54 - yet the 23-year-old is the only family member to subsequently be affected.

Although classified as blind, Coleman still possesses light perception and is able to distinguish faint shadows and silhouettes. However, blind footballers must wear a blindfold and patches to compete.

His elevation to England footballer is even more remarkable considering the period of self-destruction which followed his diagnosis.

Coleman added: ‘The first time I noticed was while working for a sales and marketing company in Southampton.

‘During a training briefing in the morning, I had to put the paper close to my face, which was spotted by the team leader who told me to get my eyes tested.

‘Then I went out for some face-to-face selling in Waterlooville town centre and approached a group of girls. I did the pitch, but didn’t realise my sister was actually among them. I hadn’t seen her.

‘Around the same time, I was in a friend’s back garden. I was trying to make out a text on my phone and couldn’t, so asked him to read it to me - he thought I was having a bit of a laugh.

‘I didn’t mention my failing sight to people, I didn’t want them to treat me differently and regard me as disabled blind. Then, six weeks later, I was literally left with no sight.

‘When I first had to use a cane I was a bit embarrassed, at that stage I still thought I’d get my sight back naturally, that I’d wake up one morning and it would be there again. Instead I was getting worse and worse within myself, I was losing who I was.

‘I went off the rails, getting upset and angry, taking it out on other people. I had a lot of depressing thoughts all the time, I was always thinking negatively, it was difficult.

‘Then came the robbery at my flat, it was hard to trust new people again, it took a while, I had to be careful who I was with, although he is the only person to have behaved like that to me, to honest.

‘I was also using other mechanisms as a short-term fix to make myself feel better. That suited me at the time.

‘There were drugs and alcohol pretty much every day to make myself feel better, it didn’t make me feel blind. I was doing loads of both, not heroin or Crystal Meth, but lots of other stuff.

‘I wasn’t living a very stable life and it came to a point where I was doing too much and realised I had to sort myself out. Something had to be done for my long-term benefit, otherwise I was going to mess my brain up and who I was.’

In 2014, Coleman received local authority funding to earn a residential place at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford.

Then, in January 2016, he was handed a contract by the Football Association, having identified his talent as a blind footballer.

He was subsequently a member of the England side which lost on penalties to Spain in the semi-finals of the 2017 European Championships in Berlin, although claimed bronze after then seeing off France.

Now he’s striving not just for international success - but also to inspire others to turn their life around.

Coleman said: ‘The message I try to get across to people, even those not affected with sight loss, is if you are in a struggling situation and don’t know how to deal with it, sometimes you have to find the solution yourself.

‘Try to discover a focus, try to find a positive, turn something negative into a positive, flip it around.

‘I had been dealt those cards, but you have to get on with it, think positively when bad things happen.

‘And now I’m representing my country in the World Cup - which is a dream come true.’

• England face Mali on Saturday (1pm), then Brazil (June 11) and Costa Rica (June 12) as part of their Group D fixture list.

Matches can be watched live through a stream at http://www.madrid.blindfootballworldcup.com/

Also, Waterlooville Sports Bar and Snooker Hall, Aston Road, are televising the matches. Brandon is a member of the club there and they will be supporting him.

Brandon can be followed on Twitter at @b_coleman7