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Teen spent months in coma - now he's back playing for NI cerebral palsy squad

Now aged 23, Charlie Fogarty tells Linda Stewart how he was awarded an MBE for his work with young people and how singer Cheryl Cole helped in his rehab

Charlie Fogarty with his dad Mark
Charlie Fogarty with his dad Mark
Charlie after his accident
Charlie playing for Northern Ireland
Charlie at Buckingham Palace with his MBE
Charlie Fogarty

Charlie Fogarty has one very unusual occupational therapy tip - and he mentions it, he says, in the hope that it might lead to a meeting with a certain famous singer. In the gruelling months as he battled to relearn how to walk following a life-changing road accident, the young footballer recalls struggling to be able to lift his head due to the brain injury he had incurred.

"Because I didn't have a lot of strength in my neck, my head would be a bit down," he says.

"What helped me to pull my head up when I was walking on the treadmill - they put a picture of Cheryl Cole up there and my head would go straight up, and by the next step I was almost running!"

And while he hasn't yet got to meet Cheryl in person, Charlie's hard work and determination has paid off - the 23-year-old from Solihull in Birmingham is now a member of the Northern Ireland Cerebral Palsy (CP) squad, is forging a new career as a motivational speaker and has even been awarded an MBE in the Queen's New Year Honours List for his services to youth.

Instead of celebrating his 23rd birthday, he was hitting the news headlines recently after helping to launch the Tiny Massive Moments campaign on behalf of the Children's Trust, the brain injury charity that helped him to fight his way back from a devastating accident.

He spent four months in a coma, followed by six months learning to walk and talk again, but is now player-manager of the disability team at his local Solihull Moors Football Club - not to mention having played for Northern Ireland at the Cerebral Palsy World Cup.

Charlie was born and reared in Birmingham, but played for Northern Ireland as a schoolboy thanks to his family links - his grandfather on his mum's side is from Limavady and he has other relations here.

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As a youngster from a footballing-mad family, Charlie grew up with a passion for the beautiful game - his dad Mark (56) is sporting director with Solihull Moors Football Club. Charlie still lives at home with his dad, mum Sarah (51), sister Emma (19) and brother Tommy (15).

"I love football - I've been playing it all my life. Because my dad and my mum have always been involved in football, I was as well," he says.

"When I was younger, my dad tried to get me to become a Birmingham City fan because it was near where I lived, but I made my own choice and now I follow Manchester United. I just followed my dad in supporting Man U."

At the time of his accident, Charlie was 15 and had spent four years in the Birmingham City Academy before joining MK Dons.

But his life was to change for ever in March 2012 when he was hit by a car after alighting from a bus, taking the full impact on his head which resulted in a huge shaking of the brain.

"I can't tell you a great deal about it. The doctors and surgeons told me that the brain wipes out any negative activity from your memory," Charlie says.

"I left the house in the morning to get the bus as I always do. I remember leaving the house and then I remember coming back, 10 months later."

Charlie says he later learned that the bus had unexpectedly changed route and he'd found himself on the wrong bus.

After speaking to the driver, he got off, started to cross the road and was hit by a car.

"I took all the hit on my head. I'd never broken a bone in my life before - it was mad," he says.

"I spent four months in a coma and then I was transferred to another rehab place and was put in an induced coma for a further six weeks. I spent a total of six months down in Surrey at the Children's Trust.

"My first memory was when I was in the ambulance and was being transferred. I was lying on a hospital bed and I had tubes going up my nose - I'd obviously been in some kind of accident - and my mum was in the ambulance with me. For some reason I didn't pull out the tubes and I can't tell you why. All I did was wave to my mum to tell her I was okay."

Charlie had a long road ahead, having to learn to walk, talk and feed himself again from scratch.

"I had to build up my strength in everything. I took my first steps again almost exactly six months post injury on September 16, 2012," he says.

"I had to do speech and language therapy because I wasn't talking. I had to do occupational therapy. They made me a button that I could touch and could say 'yes' or 'no' to help me communicate that way.

"I still train four times a week with a strength and conditioning trainer because I have to be at the top of my fitness levels because I play for Northern Ireland Cerebral Palsy Team."

Charlie had already played for Northern Ireland's U16 schoolboys team. As he regained his strength and became more involved in playing at Solihull Moors, his dad got back in touch with his contacts over here and asked if they would have a look at him for the Northern Ireland CP team.

"I was back playing but I wanted to play at a higher level - I've always wanted to test myself," Charlie says.

"I was given a trial in Northern Ireland and went over. Now, every six months I am invited to go over and train with the team with a view to being selected for the summer for whatever tournaments we are going to.

"Basically, I had to win my place. They can only take a certain number to each tournament and I've won my place in them."

There are some modifications to CP football, he explains.

"You can take an underarm throw if you struggle to get your arms above your head," he says.

"It's seven-a-side, so obviously there are smaller pitches and there's no off-side. The concept though is still the same."

Players are also split into FT1, FT2 and FT3 classes. With both sides of his body affected by cerebral palsy, Charlie is classified as FT1 and the footballing rules require that there be one FT1 on the field at all times, which means he gets plenty of opportunities to play - "I think we only have two FT1s on the team".

Charlie has already played in the CP World Cup at St George's Park in 2015 and played in Denmark at the next World Cup qualifiers. He also plays in the home internationals and has competed against Scotland twice. The team trains at the Hanwood Centre in Dundonald.

"The boys are a great laugh - I love all my team-mates," he says.

But the footballing isn't all he does - he's also an ambassador in Northern Ireland for McDonald's and an ambassador for Solihull Moors.

"I was recently asked to be an ambassador for the Stanley Matthews Foundation, which is massive because it looks like I might get to travel all over the world for it," he says.

"Motivational speaking is my full-time job. Basically my dad's old boss moved to Wigan and because he had let my dad take so much time to help during my injury, my dad brought me to Wigan to tell my story and I got a great reception."

There were representatives of the English Football League at the event, which led onto other things for Charlie and then the Premier League also became involved.

Charlie's battle back to fitness and inspiring others earned him the Highly Commended runner-up in the Child of Courage category at the Pride of Birmingham awards in 2014. He now visits schools, sports clubs and business events to talk about the lessons of grit and determination.

"I talk about how everything is possible. To have been in a coma in a hospital bed to going to representing your country at several World Cups and European Championships - if that isn't 'anything is possible', then I don't know what is. Everything is possible," he says.

He says his personality has changed as well in the wake of his injury.

"Before my accident I was the total opposite - now I am more outgoing and more confident," he says.

"Before, I was like a nervous wreck. I wouldn't have talked as much. I would say I was closed - I was hard to read because I didn't say much.

"But I didn't talk for 10 months and now that I can talk again, my parents keep telling me to shut up!"

Charlie is also employed by Solihull Moors to go into schools to teach football and other extracurricular activities. "All I ever wanted was to be a footballer," he says. "My dad had two operations on his knee and his back and he went into coaching and I used to joke that if I ever had a career-ending injury, I'll go into coaching like you. So I've kind of done that as well."

Charlie is looking forward to the World Cup qualifiers this month. He says his next aim is to win a trophy with Northern Ireland, adding: "We're not the best team, put it that way… because the manager doesn't play me as often as I would like!"

He says he wants to play in four World Cups and three European Championships with Northern Ireland.

"I've been referred to as the George Best of CP football when I was over there and I said 'thank you very much' - but they quickly told me, it's not for your ability, it's for the drink," he laughs.

"I like a drink, but only in moderation. In fact I've given up alcohol until we finish the tournament. Hopefully we win it and I can have a big drink."

And he's going to have a packed schedule for the foreseeable future, with more and more motivational speaking in the pipeline. Charlie says it was incredible to be interviewed on Sky Sports News a few weeks ago about the Children's Trust launch.

"My aim in life has always been to inspire millions of people to be the best version of themselves that they can be," he says.

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