Former Liverpool striker Michael Owen 'prays every night' for cure for son's eye condition

Michael Owen and his son James speaking to Susanna Reid and Ed Balls on Good Morning Britain.

Former Liverpool and England striker Michael Owen has said he "goes to bed every night praying" a cure will be found for a genetic condition which has left his son James clinically blind.

James, 17 was diagnosed with Stargardt disease aged eight, which forced him to give up his dream of becoming a professional footballer as his sight got progressively worse.

Owen, 44, appeared on Good Morning Britain on Tuesday 23 January, along with James, to to discuss the condition.

Stargardt occurs when fatty material builds up on the macula - which is needed for sharp, central vision. There is currently no cure.

Michael with James when he was younger Credit: Good Morning Britain

Owen said he noticed something was wrong when James was playing football: "He was showing loads of quality, he was physically good enough, he’d got a great dribble, and amazing balance and he’s fast as lightning, but I was just stood on the side thinking ‘he’s got no brain’.”

On discovering James had the rare and incurable condition 10 years ago, Michael told Susanna Reid and Ed Balls: "I suppose as a parent, myself and my wife probably felt far worse than James, which sounds really bad.

"You want to take all the pain away from him, you feel sorry for him every time he goes to hospital and gets new drops that make his eyes sting and he’s crying all day."

Michael added: "But James was born that way, James doesn’t know any different. I think it was quite hard for us when we found out that this was an incurable disease at the moment.

"We live in an age with stem cells that we go to bed every night praying something will be there to cure him, but at the moment, it’s a condition that regresses over time.

"That’s obviously horrible, but I’ve never sung it off the rooftops. We get on in life.

"James is 18 in a couple of weeks. We have a fantastic life together, it brings us closer, I have to drive him everywhere and I’m absolutely delighted about that.

"We take the positives out of it. Of course you bring it to light in the public domain and everyone’s like, ‘Oh my word’, but it’s water off a duck’s back for us.

"It’s news to the world but we’ve been living with it a long time."

Michael and James spoke to Susanna Reid and Ed Balls on Good Morning Britain Credit: Good Morning Britain

When asked if he felt guilty about the things he would say to James before the diagnosis, Owen said: "Absolutely. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t looking at the camera straight.

"I’d get people come up to me and say, ‘Just a little bit of advice for your son, when he shakes your hand, tell him to look in someone’s eye.’

"You always think to yourself, ‘Shall I tell him?’ No, I’ll just leave it. I can’t be bothered having the conversation and that happens to this day.”

When he was asked if he thought it was James' fault, Owen admitted initially he did, especially when he was on the the football field.

He said: "I am not a pushy parent. I’m not one of those dads that stand at the line and shout at him, so I would just sort of make these whistling noises and he knew something was wrong when I did that and almost go into a panic thinking, ‘I’m in the wrong position here because my dad’s just made a little whistle noise’.

"But that was then and this is now."

James' sister is Love Island star Gemma Owen Credit: Instagram: @gemowen_1

James, whose sister is Love Island star Gemma Owen, himself admitted he did struggle for a long time about the fact he would not be able to become a professional footballer because of the condition.

He said: "Everyone dreams of being a footballer when they’re younger, so it was quite hard, especially with it being so close to home.

"It’s something you have to get over."

James added his dad never put him under pressure: "He is a great dad, he definitely helped me through a lot of the hard times and understanding why I am this way.

"It’s been a massive help and it’s made me into the person I am today. I am a lot happier now. It doesn’t really affect me now."

James has now put his football boots on again to train with England’s Partially Sighted Futsal team.

He and his dad are also hosting a new documentary titled Football is for Everyone, which delves into the world of sight loss and sport.

It follows their journey at the 2023 World Finals, where they narrowly lost the equivalent of the World Cup final to Ukraine.

Michael believes the time will come when footballers with disabilities will be celebrated as much as the top men and women teams.

Football is for Everyone premieres on TNT Sports 1 at 11pm on 30 January.

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