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I'm ready now: Former Northern Ireland U19 captain dreaming of football career again after paralysing car crash

A former Northern Ireland U19 captain is getting back into football again after a car crash cut his promising career short.

It's now 16 years since Peter Mitchell lost the use of both of his legs after his back was broken in two places. He had been a passenger in a car, going to get food but not wearing a seatbelt.

The then 18-year-old had his whole career ahead of him - and potentially a very good one too. He was the leader of the NI U19 side and was right-back for Leeds United's Academy team back in an era when the Yorkshire club were reaching Champions League semi-finals.

And yet in an instant, it was all snatched from him.

Now, 16 years-on, he's taken on a role as a motivational speaker for English Football League academies and is considering taking up coaching back in Northern Ireland.

But it's been a long road.

Understandably, it took years for the Limavady man to even be able to watch the sport again.

"In 2009, seven years after the crash, I couldn't watch football," he told the BBC. "It frustrated me too much. I spent around two years not being able to watch it," he continued. "It was too tough. I didn't watch it at all.

"Then one day a friend took me to Liverpool and I felt the atmosphere. That's when I got my love back. Now I can't watch enough of it, I drive my wife crazy. There's football on every night."

The progress of that mental recovery has now led Mitchell, after a spell as an actor in Coronation Street and Hollyoaks as well as a wheelchair basketball career that brought international honours, back to his first love.

It's football that has always surrounded his life, from growing up in a family of talented players. His maternal grandad Jim Mitchell played for Northern Ireland's underage sides, Derry City and Linfield and had the chance to go to England to play with Blackburn Rovers.

Now that Peter's rediscovered his love of the sport, he's giving a series of talks at English Football League clubs to inspire the current crop of academy players and give them a grounding sense of life outside the football bubble.

"The big message is 'lads, you're here. You're living the dream. You're incredibly privileged. Grab your opportunity. Seize the day'," he said. "It doesn't matter how talented you are. Your talent can only get you so far. You have to have the right attitude and apply yourself."

Mitchell had attempted to get involved with football again in a similar role back in 2015, encouraged by former Leeds and Doncaster Rovers Belles forward Lucy Ward.

"I'd go back to Leeds and I'd be a blubbing mess. Lucy would have to come in and console me," he said.

"I wasn't ready then, it was still incredibly raw for me. But I'm 34 now. I'm ready, I can talk about it. Now I'm confident enough. If I can go and be in front of a camera and pretend to be someone else, acting on television, then I can talk to these lads.

"I was never a 'wonderkid', technically gifted or tidy on the ball. I was just a grafter. I got stuck in. I was fit. I was fast.

"A lot of people lose that drive as they get older, maybe as they start going on nights out. I tell these lads: 'You've got the best job in the world. You're living the dream. Don't forget that.'

"It's a tough age for any young man. These lads are transitioning from boys to men."

Now that his League Football Education talks have reopened the door, Mitchell is once again dreaming of a career in football and is even considering taking up coaching in Northern Ireland.

"(The talks are) helping me as a person, talking about my accident. And seeing the academies, I'm getting that hunger back and I'm thinking of different things I'd like to do now," he said. "Scouting, or maybe going back home and coaching, would be something.

"My life has moved on. I have to learn to live with the frustration. I'm an extremely happily married man with a baby girl. Now it's about me growing as a person. I'm ready now."

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