'Discovering the England CP team made me feel like anything is possible'
Jayden Kenyon discusses how he went from needing a wheelchair and not knowing there was an England Cerebral Palsy team to winning silver at the 2023 IFCPF European Championships
When I was younger, I used to play in the park with my mates and family, just kicking a ball about with them. And it wasn’t until I was about 16 when I started playing for a mainstream team.
I had put off playing mainstream football initially because of my confidence. I never thought I’d be able to keep up with the other players because they were able-bodied. But I tried to improve all the time and then I started getting more confident.
I found it hard at the start because all of the other players were able-bodied, and I found myself not really playing much because I would only get five or ten minutes at the end, which was giving me setbacks. But then I got asked to play in the CP league and that's when it took off, really.
Playing in the CP league meant I was able to play against people with the same impairment as me, and that's when my confidence started building more.
I only found out there was an England CP team last year and then this year, I was on the plane to the CP EURO!
I knew there were disability football leagues growing up but I didn’t know there were any near me. I played at Manchester United’s pan-disability programme Ability Counts and there was a coach from CP North West there watching and he asked if I could go training with them.
When I went to training with CP North West, they were all talking about England. So I said, ‘What's this England team you are talking about?’ And they were saying there was an England Cerebral Palsy team.
Ever since then, it was like, ‘right, I need to get playing there. That is my goal.’
I then had the chance to play in the FA Disability Cup final and I knew that was the best time to get my name out there. So it was a case of doing something special in that game and the rest will follow up.
Before you knew it, I had a trial for the England Development team, with around 60 players, I got through to the selection day, did that, played against Scotland in the Development game, scored in that and then I received a senior call-up. I had one camp, played in the Tri-Nations and then I was selected for the CP EURO this summer!
So joining CP North West was a huge moment because I went from having one training session a week to then, when I found out there was an England team, having three training sessions and three gym sessions each week and I just kept progressing and progressing.
I was nowhere near the level I am now at the start; I had no confidence and I was always negative with my thinking. Then it just switched because I thought ‘I can do this!’
I started looking into all the England CP players’ stories and I got properly into the England CP team. I was looking at all the games and I started thinking ‘anything is possible’.
I saw little progressions in myself and it was starting to add up to something. I could actually feel myself getting better over time.
I have come a long way, not only as a footballer but as a person. Growing up, I would get called names at school and when I would get home, my mum would know something was wrong. I would just sit in my room before eventually, I would break down and just tell her everything, and she wouldn't want me to go in.
It was the laughing behind my back and then all the little comments, which no one would own up to saying. But I feel like it all made me stronger because there is a part of me that wanted to do all this to rub it in their faces and be like 'I'm not so disabled now am I because I play for my country!’
It really did make me stronger. To this day I still think about those little moments before matches and I want to prove people wrong all the time.
I wasn’t even aware of disability football leagues until I was about 17 or 18 and it is why I was so keen to get my story out there when I became an England international because I feel like there are other people out there now who are in the same position I was in. There are people out there that are struggling, getting called names and stuff, so I want to tell my story and hopefully help give advice about what I've done.
My message would be to get into whatever local team you can find and just start from there really because when you're younger, you've got a greater chance of improving over a short spell of time.
To the younger generation, I would also say don't feel like you're on your own because a few years back, before I found out there were cerebral palsy leagues, I felt like I was the only one. But when you turn up to the sessions, you realise how common the disability is and you're not on your own.
When you get to these sessions, everyone else tells you their stories and it is a really good place for socialising and you all support each other through things.
Playing disability football made me much more confident because I knew that I wasn't on my own.
When I started playing for England, the players would be saying ‘you are getting better’ and ‘you are getting better at this or that’ and it was pushing me forward – I was getting told I was getting better by the people I was watching.
This weekend is the FA Disability Cup and last year’s Cerebral Palsy Final was just amazing for me.
The FA Disability Cup returns this weekend! 🙌— BT Sport (@btsport) June 23, 2023
Six different finals will take place over two days at St. George’s Park 🏆
📺 Watch every moment live on BT Sport pic.twitter.com/YDdeVzjAQG
Knowing that people were watching on TVs at home and having my family there, it was like a now or never moment for me. I knew I was not going to get a better chance to show what I was made of because everyone was watching.
I would like to think there are going to be kids sitting at home watching this weekend, thinking: ‘I could see myself doing that’.
In last year’s final, I was wearing a shirt which said: ‘CP won’t stop me’ and just before half-time, I missed a penalty so at the break, I looked at the shirt and thought if I score, I need to show this shirt because of where I have come from and because of letting anything get in the way. That shirt helped me show that anything is possible.
Having a disability, you struggle at times and get down on yourself because you think people are judging you. At times, you really wish you didn’t have your disability, especially when you're younger and people are immature and call you names. It can affect your mental health.
But when you're playing with people who have similar conditions and other disabilities, you realise you're condition is maybe not as bad as others, and it makes you think. There are people who suffer more than you do, where they struggle to eat or talk, and you realise that you are actually lucky.
Growing up, I would sometimes have to go out in a wheelchair because I could only walk a certain distance before my leg would fatigue and I didn’t think I would ever be able to play football competitively. But I did physio sessions, including someone coming into my school, and would go swimming, stretching and things like that.
So I’ve gone from having to be in a wheelchair to scoring a hat-trick for England. I really hope that is something which can help inspire people.
Putting on that England shirt for the first time, it was just so emotional. It represented all the hard work and the hard times I had to go through.
Every time I put the England shirt on, I feel like I’m doing this for my country, I’m doing this for my family and I’m proving all the people wrong.
All the bad times when you struggled with your mental health, just being able to put that shirt on, takes away all the bad stuff and replaces it. Every time I put on that England shirt, it is such an achievement for me.
This is what I dreamed of doing. Everyone dreams of playing for their country growing up and when I see my name on that England shirt, words can’t describe the feeling.
Learn about the FA Disability Cup