AN INSPIRATIONAL football coach will carry the Olympic torch as recognition of his dedication to the grass-roots game.
Gary Brown has been involved in local football for more than 20 years and is club secretary of Lumley Football Club and its 13 teams, from junior to senior level, and is part of the management committee of two local leagues.
The 37-year-old also uses a wheelchair as a result of Friedreich’s ataxia, a physical and neurological condition.
He was diagnosed with it in his early teens, which dashed his dreams of becoming a professional footballer.
The county FA says Black Cats fan Gary is the only wheelchair user in the country with a level two coaching qualification.
Rita Brown, who is not related to Gary, nominated him. Her grandson plays in Gary’s under-11s team and she is delighted that he has been given the chance to carry the torch.
She said: “I nominated Gary because it is so good of him to do as much as he does for so many children.”
Gary, from Great Lumley, does not see himself as an inspiration and is excited about his big day.
He said: “I’m elated that they called. I can’t put it into words. It’s nice that people have recognised the work I’ve done and nominated me.”
The coach’s love of football stretches back to his childhood, before his dreams where halted by his illness. It is a passion he still has today when he coaches young players and his disabled team.
“I grew up with aspirations of being a pro footballer,” said Gary. “Like any kid, I wanted to play for Sunderland and England but then I was diagnosed when I was 14.”
Gary has been chosen to carry the torch in Billingham on June 17.