March 22, 2009 – Birmingham City prospect Jack Rutter was enjoying a night out celebrating after helping the team qualify for the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup.
With regular reserve appearances under his belt, and the occasional involvement with Steve Bruce’s first team, a professional contract looked to be on the cards for the up-and-coming right-back.
One punch changed everything.
“Unfortunately I got caught up in an unprovoked assault,” says Rutter.
“He knocked me unconscious so I didn’t put my hands out to protect myself.
“I just fell straight back and struck my head on the curbstone.”
The injury prognosis: A fractured skull in two places; moderate brain damage; a bleed on the brain and permanent deafness in his right ear.
After a fortnight in intensive care Rutter had to leave hospital in a wheelchair – unable to recall what had happened and with his balance and coordination gone.
The perpetrator was sentenced to 12 months in youth detention – he served six.
“I ended up retiring from professional football a year after the assault because of my physical injuries,” the now 26-year-old explains.
“But it was the problems with my mental state, which was the long term effect in many ways.
“I was obviously depressed about what happened, I was anxious about my future and I was very angry about the injustice of it all – it was very hard to come to terms with.
“My memory was terrible, I had problems with my fatigue – I was getting tired really easily – and I couldn’t do what I could do before.
“It was almost like going back to a baby and I had to teach myself to do things again.
“I had to teach myself how to talk properly, because I would always forget words and I would slur my speech a little bit, and obviously the physical impairments – dizziness and headaches.
“It was just terrible for quite a while and really, at that point, I didn’t know how I was going to get out of it.
“Fortunately I had an amazing support network from my family and friends, and the charity Headway were instrumental in my recovery as well.”
Despite the tragic nature of the punch this is not a story of anguish and sorrow, this is a story about how you bounce back in the face of adversity.
At the time of the assault Rutter was being hailed as a rising Birmingham City star.
Now he is England captain.
After struggling for some time with depression and anger the defender found his way into cerebral palsy football and has now represented his nation at four major tournaments – including the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
“It’s a huge honour. For my first tournament in 2013, to be named captain straight away was a dream come true and it really helped me mature quite a lot,” he says.
“It really helped me to think about other people and I think that’s one of the reasons that I’ve gone into the work that I have done – trying to help others on their journeys too.
“I think I was quite selfish before, and quite close-minded, and now I am a bit more open-minded.
“I’m more of a team player and I try and help others as much as I possibly can do.”
However, perhaps the biggest success is the way Rutter has overcome the uncompromising mental battles he has had to endure.
Alongside his captaincy duties he is also a motivational speaker and runs his own skills school.
In many ways the punch has become the making of the man.
“I wouldn’t say the anger has gone completely because it was a very traumatic thing,” he adds.
“It affected not just me but my family immensely.
“But we all felt like we’ve moved on now, which is really good.
“Actually when you go through painful situations in your life – as everybody does – you can draw strength from those moments when you were down and you can go back and remember how you felt then.
“Remember how angry you were, remember how upset you were and if you learn from it, and use it as a motivation in the things you do now in the present, it can actually be a really good thing to be able to do.
“You can just motivate yourself when you’re feeling a bit tired or you’re nervous about something.
“Draw back on those experiences in the past to help you in the future and that’s what I try and do with my mindset.
“Without a doubt that’s helped me in achieving what I have done – not just on the pitch but off the pitch as well.
“Whenever anybody goes through an experience like that there’s almost a before and after.
“You can either be defined by the horrible thing that happened to you for the rest of your life or you can go on and make something new of your life.
“That’s what, hopefully, people find nice about my story.”
Listen to the full interview with Jack Rutter on SportSpiel by clicking here
Find out more about the Jack Rutter Skills School by clicking here