Promising young footballer who went blind at the age of seven has been earmarked as a future England star.
When Mikey was six, he went for a routine eye test. But despite having near perfect vision, the optician noticed something wasn’t right.
Further tests revealed the schoolboy from north London had a rare degenerative eye condition called rod cone dystrophy. The disease meant his vision was gradually going but specialists thought it would take a number of decades for his sight to disappear completely.
But dad John says: “Unfortunately for Mikey it happened within 18 months. It was like slow torture. We were watching our son lose his vision, on a daily, weekly basis not knowing what the end goal was.”
Life changed quickly for Mikey, now nine, who loves going to Arsenal matches.
Just a few months after his diagnosis, he had to stop playing football for his local club as it had become too dangerous.
John says: “It devastated him. When he started the season he was fully sighted and by the end he had to stop playing because he was completely blind.”
But Mikey refused to give up and started attending Tottenham Hotspur’s Centre of Excellence which has a specialist visually impaired football programme.
John adds: “All he wants to do is play football. Before he knew about his vision, he would say: ‘I want to be a professional footballer.’ When he was losing his vision, he would still say: ‘I want to be a professional footballer’.”
While playing there, Mikey was spotted by coach Oliver Monksfield. John says: “He took one look at Mikey and the next day I got a call from Oli saying he had contacted the FA. He said he had so much ability and potential.”
Mikey, a striker, now attends weekly training sessions with England coaches.
“It’s really fun but challenging at the same time,” says Mikey, now nine. “You can’t see the ball so you have to hear it.”
In blind football, the ball contains bearings that make a rattling sound so players can locate it on the pitch. Players also wear specially-designed masks so partially-sighted people, and those with less severe visual impairments, can play alongside completely blind players.
John says: “For Mikey to have to go through what he’s been through and to pursue his dream and never give up, I couldn’t be prouder.”
Now Mikey’s family are raising awareness of rod cone dystrophy to fund research into the condition and find a cure.