How pure OT imagination helped net a golden goal ticket after brain injury.
Charlie Fogarty and the football factory: how pure OT imagination helped net a golden goal ticket after brain injury.
Count to three, come with me and meet Charlie Fogarty MBE – that’s Member of the Order of the British Empire; an honour awarded for outstanding achievement.
It’s an awe-inspiring accolade for any 25-year-old, but especially so for Charlie, whose prognosis just nine years ago was that he would never walk or talk again.
I believe anything is possible in life if you have self-belief, you work hard, and you never give up.
Charlie Fogarty MBE
Charlie, from Solihull, West Midlands, was hit by a car while crossing the road in March 2012.
He sustained a severe brain injury, spent 11 days in an induced coma, four months in a neuro ward and six months in a paediatric neurorehabilitation centre.
Before the accident, he’d just completed four years with Birmingham City Football Club Academy and was tipped as a future star.
Now, as England mourns its loss in the 2020 Euros, Charlie describes how the misses and wins in the beautiful game – along with some imaginative occupational therapy - saved him when the unexpected struck.
Begin with a spin
It’s Charlie’s time to take to the virtual podium to deliver an inspirational speech – for which he’s become renowned - to delegates at a Brain Injury Group (BIG) conference. 
But there’s a tricky early opponent to tackle first – technical difficulties with the video conferencing set-up.
He squares up to them with calm determination and, before long, he’s back in control, ready to play on.
And it’s a performance that’s well worth the wait.
“I’m here to talk to you about why I believe that anything is possible in life if you have self-belief, you work hard, and you never give up,” he begins rousingly.
We all have dreams we want to achieve in life. Mine was to become a professional footballer, and I was on my way to fulfilling that dream until a road traffic accident in 2012 almost took it away.
Charlie’s father had set up and managed the first team Charlie ever played for as a child, he reveals.
“I still remember being called up to take the penalties, which is what usually happens when you’re the manager’s son…and crying when I inevitably missed.”
West Bromwich Albion FC scouts picked up Charlie’s enthusiasm for the sport.
“But it wasn’t until I moved to Birmingham City that coaches noted I had talent,” he says.
“Now that I had a chance to play for Birmingham City, nothing was going to stop me.”
Charlie displays a youth league team photo in which he is pictured with Demarai Gray, a professional playing for Bayer Leverkusen club in Germany’s premier Bundesliga.
He adds, “Everything was going really well. Right up until 17th March 2012, which is better known as St Patrick’s Day. How can I ever forget that day now?”
He’d been revising for his GSCE examinations and decided to take a break and meet up with a friend to take a bus trip – but was hit by the car on the route.
“You know how you’re taught at school to use your head? You know people really should tell you not to use it against a speeding car.”
Charlie can’t recall the accident, but he adds, “I knew the outlook for the rest of my life wasn’t good.
The doctors didn’t expect me to do much after my injury. They didn’t think or expect that I would walk or talk again. They didn’t think I would go back to my mainstream school.
“And they certainly didn’t expect me to become an international footballer and inspirational speaker.”
World of creation
Charlie was transferred to The Children’s Trust’s residential brain injury rehabilitation centre in Tadworth, Surrey, where, after two months, he finally spoke for the first time since his accident.
Then, four months later, he retook his first steps.
“I hated having to do all the different therapies while I was there,” he admits. “But I fancied the therapist like mad so…every cloud, eh?
“I knew I wanted to be a footballer again, and nothing was going to stop me getting back on that pitch where I belonged.”
Charlie’s rehabilitation was supported by a year of occupational therapy – including some imaginative means to motivate him, as he told The Belfast Telegraph in an interview following his MBE award. 
"Because I didn't have a lot of strength in my neck, my head would be a bit down," he told the newspaper.
"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!"
During another session, his occupational therapist (OT) put a keyboard in front of him and encouraged him to type anything he wanted.
“Just quite slowly, because I’ve only got use of the one arm – the other arm shakes – I typed in Michael McIntyre at the gym…and the rest is history. It was very good!”
The YouTube video Charlie watched of the UK comedian was of him performing his sketch, Naked Men in Changing Rooms. 
Poignantly, after six months of little communication and showing minimal facial expression, Charlie’s face broke into a grin.
Remembering his OT’s impact, he says, “A bit of it has been my own perseverance as well, but [my OT] gave me the right tools to help me get used to doing things for myself again. All of that was very helpful.”
And, closer to home, there’s been more support from the sidelines.
Mum, Sara and dad, Mark, have been devoted to Charlie since the accident. Mark even gave up his job at Coventry City Football Club to help care for him.
“I feel there were two things that gave me the best chance to recover like I have today,” Charlie says.
“Parental and family support in everything I’ve done has been massive. And the never-give-up attitude.
My life changed completely after the accident, but I feel that I now have so many other and potentially better opportunities.
Wish to be
Like wide open goals, Charlie has been nailing every opportunity he can since starting his rehabilitation journey.
He tells the conference delegates, “I’m a very positive person. Since my injury, I’ve removed all negative words from my life, such as ‘no’ or ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’.
“Because the minute someone tells you, ‘You can’t do this’ or ‘You won’t do this’, I go, ‘Yet!’ I won’t be able to do it now, but I will come back and show you that I can do it and I will.”
In the year after his accident, he began playing for the West Midlands Centre of Excellence Cerebral Palsy (CP) football team.
And just 18 months later, he was selected for the Northern Ireland CP team with whom he’s gone on to play internationally, not least at the CP World Cups in 2015 and 2017.
Of the 2015 finale, he recalls, “I came on as a last-minute sub in our last game – and literally ran from the halfway line to the 18-yard box as the referee blew for full time.”
Charlie was in play for just two minutes. “That’s how long it took me to run down the pitch,” he adds.
But during the team’s most recent international clash in Barcelona, his astonishing transformation was proof of Brazilian footballing great, Pele’s posit:
Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do
Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pele)
In a game that clinched runner-up for his team, Charlie reveals, “I played 225 minutes out of a possible 240 minutes, just missing out on 15 minutes to allow other players to experience what playing in an international tournament for our country feels like.”
It’s no surprise then that he’s easily able to put himself in the football shoes of Bukayo Saka, who missed the last-chance penalty shot at England’s Euro 2020 final earlier this month.
“If you think about it, it’s the last penalty, and you have 60,000 fans watching you,” Charlie says.
“I was expectant that, for the last penalty we needed to score, Gareth [Southgate, England manager] would send on more experienced players.
“When I saw Bukayo Saka walking up, my first thought was, wow! To do that at 19. Imagine the pressure he’s under.
“Unfortunately, he did miss, and I know he’s been criticised, but I think that’s wrong because how many of the people criticising him would have put themselves forward?”
Charlie now trains up to five times a week to maintain his fitness levels and ensure he’s “ready for the next call up” to represent the CP team.
“I am now that fast that I need a parachute to slow me down!”
But he’s also a big believer in the benefits of sleep to boost rehab.  
“After training, I tend to have a sleep now – which I didn’t do before - because I’ve looked into it, and sleep is where your body really does recover properly,” he advises.
“So, while I’m recovering, it means I can go again because I do train so consistently and frequently.”
And there’s little slowing down his neurocognitive recovery too. In 2018, he achieved a BSc Honours degree in Applied Sports Science and had developed a second career as a motivational speaker.
With five international football caps to his name, he is also the founder and manager of the Solihull Moors Open Age disability football team.
And as news of his courage and can-do attitude has spread, other awards have also rained down (but not stopped play), including:
- 2014: Pride of Birmingham Awards, Child of Courage (Highly Commended).
- 2015: Birmingham’s Young Person of the Year Civic Award.
- 2016: Sports Solihull Disabled Sportsman of the Year.
- 2016: High Sheriff County Award for Inspiring Others.
- 2018: Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
- 2019: Pride of Birmingham Awards, Special Recognition.
More recently, Charlie discloses, he’s been voted Disability Player of the Year in Northern Ireland.
My story shows that anything really is possible with self-belief, determination and a lot of hard work.
As for the future, Charlie has several goals already lined up. “I want to play for Team Ireland in the Paralympics,” he says.
“I want to win as many caps as I can and, hopefully, one day, captain Northern Ireland which will see us lift that world cup.
“But, perhaps, more importantly, I want to continue to inspire others.”
Find out more about Charlie’s sweet rehabilitation success here: Charlie Fogarty.
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