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Michael Pearce delivering a coaching session

Michael Pearce has always had a passion for football, and has even represented England for CP Football. He’s made a lot of friends through the game and, more importantly, it’s given him a real sense of purpose. So when he saw the opportunity to give something back through EE Playmaker by England Football, he gave it his all.

Michael’s mum, Lorraine, is his biggest fan. She’s incredibly proud of what he’s achieved, especially given the obstacles he’s overcome.

“Michael was born 12 weeks prematurely, and subsequently has cerebral palsy. He has chronic lung disease, slight learning difficulties, a hearing impairment, and a sight impairment. But none of that matters, not when he’s on the pitch. He just loves football!”

Michael’s love of the game started back when he was young. He played for a village side, close to where he lived. However, as the only player with cerebral palsy, he found it difficult to get into the team. Not one to quit, he got in touch with CP Sport, who gave him the choice of clubs to join – one of which was Southampton FC. As a lifetime Saints fan, it was an easy decision to make.

“Of course I chose Southampton!” Michael laughs. “I’ve been a Saints fan for years!”

It was while he was there, training in the old gym at The Dell, that Michael got picked up for CP England.

“I’m so proud to have played for my country. No one can ever take that away from me,” Michael explains. “It was an incredible experience, and I wanted to give something back to the football club that had supported me for such a long time and helped make a dream come true.”

For Michael, EE Playmaker was just the opportunity he was looking for.

It gave him a way to share his own learning and inspire the young disabled players coming through.

“I want to be able to show people that it doesn’t matter what disability you have, you can play football. It means so much to me – and I get quite emotional!”

He heard about EE Playmaker through his old football coach, Rob Pearce, who worked for the Saints Foundation. So, how did he find the programme?

“I met people over Zoom and they were so supportive. I was able to ask lots of questions – and get feedback, which was just brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it gave me something to look forward to when I was shielding from work.”

For Lorraine, it was a joy to see Michael apply himself. “I was super impressed with the training videos – they were really good. For someone with learning difficulties, they were easy to follow.”

Now he’s completed the programme, Michael’s putting his new coaching skills into practice.

“During the sessions, we just do different drills, and always finish with a game. The idea is to try and put a skill we learned in the practice into the game. But what matters most to me is that everyone enjoys themselves, everyone gets a go on the ball, and no one's left out.”

Michael’s currently coaching sessions for The Saints Foundation. They run projects, initiatives and events, providing opportunities for people of all ages and abilities, helping them to feel more involved and empowered.

Fern Holleyoak, a Disability Coach for The Saints Foundation has been impressed with how far Michael’s come. “He’s a great role model for everyone, and they all look up to him,” she explains. “When he started, he was quite quiet, but every week he's doing more involved session plans, he's getting more confident, and he's louder. It’s brilliant!”

Rob Carter, Disability Coach for the Saints Foundation, agrees. “Michael’s confidence is growing all the time. He’s a natural, and clearly has what it takes to coach anyone, of any ability, in any age group.”

Michael’s mum Lorraine has been a regular fixture at most of his games, cheering him on from the sidelines. Even she’s impressed at the confidence he now shows on the pitch. “Once Michael sets his mind to something, he never, ever gives up. And this experience has been amazing for him.”

“EE Playmaker has made me more confident,” says Michael. “It’s made me a different person completely. I felt so proud to pick up the certificate at the end – it’s a great way to recognise my achievement.”

So, would Michael recommend doing the Playmaker course?

“Absolutely! I would very, very seriously suggest it. It’s one of the best courses I’ve ever done.”

Watch Michael's story in full here: