Tony Mills is a regular at Arsenal in the Community’s amputee football sessions. He reveals how Arsenal helped him get back into the sport he loves and took his life in a whole new direction.
“Football was my life, but it cost me my leg. I played for a local team but was involved in a clash with a goalkeeper that broke my tibula and fibula, and when things went wrong at the hospital my leg had to come off below the knee. I was 18.
“Naturally it was hard but you have to get on with life – you can’t sit around and mope. I started playing amputee football in 1999 and went to three World Cups with England, but then I had the chance to get into athletics so gave up the sport in 2008.
“I was a long jumper for Team GB. Unfortunately I missed both the London and Rio Paralympics with injury, which eventually forced me to retire in 2017 when I suffered a ruptured Achilles.
“It wasn’t long before I first came into contact with Arsenal. I’d relocated to Kent and I missed football, so I looked into it and there were two clubs I could go to: Arsenal or Brighton & Hove Albion.
“It was a no-brainer. I started coming to Arsenal’s amputee football sessions at The Hub, and before long I was captaining the side. That got me back into the England set-up and last year I had the opportunity to go my fourth World Cup in Mexico.
“The only problem was we had to be totally self-funded, and that’s where The Arsenal Foundation came in.
“They basically paid for me and one of my team-mates, Helder, to go. England were one of the favourites but I have to be honest, we had an absolute stinker in the quarter-finals against Brazil and lost 3-1. We should have won, on paper, but it was one of those games where everything went wrong.
“It was heart-breaking, but at the same time it was a great experience and it was fantastic for me to be involved with England after 11 years away.
“I have Arsenal to thank for that experience. It’s an amazing club and I look forward to coming to the training sessions every Thursday – I still get a buzz when I walk up and see the stadium, and the facilities are incredible. Without Arsenal in the Community I wouldn’t have got back into the sport I love and without The Arsenal Foundation I wouldn’t have made the plane last year. Even better, I have made some wonderful new friends and I even met my fiancee at the World Cup – a lovely lady from Mexico – so things have turned out pretty well.”
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