Footlights to floodlights: football coach’s remarkable journey

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Shaun Malone once dreamed of becoming a star on London’s West End stage but after a brush with death his goal is to be a full-time coach at Manchester United’s Foundation.

Malone, when just 15 years old, was struck down with a bout of sinusitis that spread to his brain and he had to undergo emergency surgery that lasted for six hours. He was given just a 10 percent chance of survival.

The passionate Manchester United fan, who performed on stage in hit play “Billy Elliot” and recalls playing football while others did their singing exercises, was in a coma for two weeks and needed several subsequent operations.

Now 22, he told AFP his life changed when the physiotherapist responsible for his rehabilitation — he had to learn to walk again — pointed him in the direction of the Ability Counts programme at United’s Foundation.

Ability Counts offers people with disabilities the opportunity to play or coach with the Premier League club.

“There was a coach there and he had terrible cerebral palsy and I was seeing that and I was like ‘well, that’s something I can do’,” said Malone.

“Someone else has got an issue, a disability, so I thought ‘well, he’s been a success, I can do that, that’s something that I’m interested in, something that I’d like to do’.

“And from that I’ve decided I thought I’m going to be a football coach and I started to like it.”

Malone first began coaching the under-16s and then moved up to the adults’ side, where, he joked, he can boss around some of those who used to order him about, but he does not want to stop there.

“I set myself goals,” he said. “Recently my goal was to get more coaching qualifications.

“Even outside of football, I’ve just done my driving test and got myself a car, that was two of those goals.

“Now my next goal is to get further qualifications and my main goal is to be a full-time member of staff at United (Foundation).”

– Carrick, Rooney visit –

Malone, who appears with his family on the popular British TV reality show “Gogglebox”, said to his parents United home games previously meant only traffic-clogged roads but the club have always meant the world to him and December 2010 will forever be imprinted on his mind.     

“I was in hospital over the Christmas period, it was December 22 I think. That morning I had been doing my physio and it was the very first day I have ever walked by myself again,” said Malone.

“That afternoon, United stars (Michael) Carrick, (Darren) Fletcher, (Wayne) Rooney and (Nemanja) Vidic all came onto the hospital ward that I was on. It was crazy, mental. It is one day I will recall for the rest of my life.

“Not only the first day I was able to walk but players I watched week in, week out came down to the ward.”

Malone, who said being with people with similar disabilities has helped him emerge from his shell socially, added that such visits may sound trivial but for those who are sick and in pain they can be a game-changer.

“At times as a young kid when you’re trying so hard to try to get better you can start feeling pretty down on the way things are,” said Malone.

“A role model like that (Carrick) coming in, it uplifted me, it uplifted everyone.”

The engaging Malone hopes he can give back to those suffering like he did.  

“I would love to inspire people in similar fashion (as his first coach at Ability Counts did) and have them look up to me.”

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