Jack Grealish backs young Doncaster cerebral palsy footballer 'not disabled enough' to play football for England
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Bryan Kirkpatrick-Elliott, 16, who has been dubbed a trailblazer for cerebral palsy sport in the UK, has been left “disappointed and confused” after being told he doesn’t fit the criteria to continue playing as part of England’s para sport team.
But at the same time, he is also too disabled to play mainstream football – and Manchester City star Grealish is among those who have come to Bryan’s support after the decision.
The Premier League star sent Bryan, who plays for cerebral palsy team CP United FC a video message, telling him: “Keep your head up and keep playing football with a big smile on your face.”
Bryan, who has right sided Hemiplegia Cerebral Palsy, began playing para football when he was eight, joining a club and also the England para pathway programme.
His dad, also called Bryan, said: “He was selected for the programme and has worked work his way through the age groups and has been extremely dedicated and focused on doing what it takes to play at the highest level.
"Classification is something all players from the ages of 15 to 16 years have to go through and although Bryan;s condition is slightly milder than most, we were assured that classification it wouldn’t be a problem.”
But after attending a medical at St George’s Park he was told he didn’t fit the bill.
Added Bryan: “He was told immediately afterwards after that unfortunately he doesn’t meet the classification criteria as he’s not disabled enough for para football but too disabled for competitive mainstream football.
"As you can imagine this news came as quite a shock and although we don’t hold the FA accountable for this, they haven’t helped the situation over the years.
"The classification system is set by a independent committee governing body, the IFCPF who Bryan was made a youth ambassador for from the age of 10 and has actively been involved with the organisation helping promote and raise awareness for CP football.
"This news has come at such a difficult time with my son collecting his GCSE results and selecting his next education pathway, something he had previously selected around sport and his work within the para program.
"He is now questioning all these choices and has left him extremely disappointed and confused.”
The family reached out to Grealish, whose sister Hollie has CP and added Bryan: “He sent the video almost immediately.
"It’s truly amazing that a player like Jack has found the time to support Bryan and the governing bodies - both the FA and the IFCPF - haven’t for a young player who has done nothing but be the best he can be and gone above and beyond to make his dream come true to be told that he’s not disabled enough after all these years.”
In the clip Grealish simply says, “Keep your head up, mate, keep playing football with a big smile on your face. We all have setbacks in life and stuff we don’t want to hear, but it’s how you react to that. I’ve had plenty in my time.
“Keep up the hard work, mate… I know how much you love football and also the work you’ve been doing in raising awareness for cerebral palsy and disabilities in football, so keep that up. I’m proud of you; keep playing and never give up on your dreams”.
In a series of messages on X, formerly Twitter, Bryan said: “Unfortunately due to classification rules I am not disabled enough to be considered for classification. I have done everything I can to be the best I can be but this is something out of my control.
“I will continue to support all para teams and the next gen of players who are eligible to play for their country. Unfortunately for me I won’t be involved on the pitch. I’m not sure what I want to do next but just want to thank everyone for all their support over the last nine years.”