North East autistic footballers prepare for Costa Blanca Cup

They are training for the biggest tournament of their lives.

In partnership with Gateshead FC, the team is made up from players who have autism and learning difficulties, will fly out to Spain to compete in the Costa Blanca Cup in July.

For some of the players, even leaving the house could not have been possible without those who run Inspired Support.

Midfielder, Robert Melrose, told ITV News Tyne Tees: "I didn't go out. I was scared to go out. Don't want to meet new people, but here everyone's in the same boat. So it's like the same for everyone. Meeting new people is good. Kicking the football around, playing… what people love, you know. It's like a dream come true." 

The group helps people with autism and learning disabilities develop coping strategies, work and social skills. They do it through exciting environments like sport, creative arts, digital and even gaming. 

Mark Irwin, goalkeeper, said: "It brought me from a person who was at his lowest. Had no purpose in life. Didn’t leave my bedroom. Through football, they've taught me independent skills and things like graphic design.

"The world needs to realise that people on the spectrum have huge potential. We've got huge talents and we have possibly more time talent than your typical. And if you give us an opportunity, we will smash. We will show you what we can do and trust me, we can do a hell of a lot more."

The head coach’s job is not just preparing the team for the tournament, but the actual trip abroad.

David Winship explained: "Over the next five months, we’re going to be doing a lot of work with the players around acclimatisation, so that's getting used to what an airport looks like, what it's like to be on a plane, what it's like to be in Spain and the culture of Spain.

"We'll be doing video walk throughs of all these different areas. The same in the hotel that will be going to, getting the guys on the pitch and them doing doing their football thing. That's easy, because once they get across the white line, they become amazing footballers. The bit before that is where we’ve got to do a lot of work."

One former Newcastle player and now Gateshead FC star has been so impressed with Inspired Support, he became an ambassador.

Adam Campbell said: "I think the fact that Inspired are going to this tournament will be absolutely brilliant I think in itself, amazing to compete against those clubs and the fact that the life skills that it will bring from from traveling abroad and being in a new environment will be top drawer for the lads and for myself, I’ll be joining in training and I'll be helping them to get used to sort of playing football at a higher level as best as I can, so that when they go there, they can compete to the best of their ability."

The team is aiming to raise £13,000 to compete in the Cup and is looking for a sponsor to enable its players to live out their European dream.