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‘It’s A Once In A Lifetime Opportunity’ Says Portsmouth Winger Che Gray

Che Gray [pictured] - Image: Jake Kirkman

Writes: Elliot Burrow

Europe’s biggest competition awaits Portsmouth as they kick off their highly anticipated Champions League campaign on Friday.

Pompey find themselves in a group alongside Turkish side Sahinbey, Paris FC and Bohemians, looking to add to the two pieces of silverware they’ve already picked up this season.

Success in the EAFA League Cup and the EAFA Cup completed a double, but narrow misses in the League and The FA Disability Cup saw Everton take the spoils and ended the season with the two teams sharing two trophies apiece.

23-year-old winger Che Gray is hoping his team can finish the season in style with one more trophy and is excited at the chance to be involved in such a prestigious competition.

“I’d never thought in a million years that I’d get the opportunity to go abroad to play some of the best teams in the world,” Gray said.

“It’s definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, and a chance to savour an experience I’ll never forget.

“In a way though it just feels so surreal, coming from a team when we started just hoping not to get battered, to a team that could potentially win the biggest competition in the world is just incredible.”

Gray became an amputee at birth when he was born with a blood clot in his left leg which ended up being amputated.

His earliest memory of watching football was when his dad’s team Southampton played Aston Villa in 2004, Villa winning 2-1.

At the age of four, his dad took him to the Southampton pan disability team where he was turned away for being too young, but he came back a year later and played with them up until he was 14.

During that time he suffered a kick to the face which made him stop playing for a year or two, but he was soon back out on the pitch.

Gray celebrates alongside league top goalscorer TJ Yates - Image: Jake Kirkman

He said: “Growing up my dad was looking for alternatives for football as I had trials for England, but there was never a pathway through the FA. He then came across amputee football and that’s how it all started.

“When I was doing junior sessions with England I met Ray Westbrook, and I remember him telling me that one day he’d see me in a Pompey shirt, which is why I was so adamant to start training with them.

“In our first ever friendly game against Arsenal, I ended up being the first ever scorer for the club, and a few months later ended up being the youngest ever player and goalscorer in the league’s history.”

In 2014, Gray was involved in the first-ever England junior sessions when Owen Coyle Jnr was the coach.

Having represented his country in the development team, Gray is hopeful that in the future he will get the chance to play alongside the Nations League champions.

Gray [pictured] amongst the England NxtGen programme

“It was a great experience filled with both highs and lows really,” Gray said.

“Playing with a lot of the players back then who have made their way into the first team and being able to have that bond with them was great.

“Unfortunately I managed to fracture my left shoulder when playing in a friendly in one of our first games which kept me out for just under a year.

“In my first game back against Scotland, I came on as a sub and managed to score with my third touch which was an unbelievable feeling.

“It felt like I had come full circle, and I’m hoping to have that feeling one day with the first team.”

Portsmouth get their Champions League group underway this Friday in Spain.

Fixture schedule:

Portsmouth vs Paris FC - Friday 10th November - 12:30 KO [11:30 GMT]

Portsmouth vs Bohemians FC - Friday 10th November - 19:30 KO [18:30 GMT]

Gaziantep vs Portsmouth - Saturday 11th November - 10:30 KO [09:30 GMT)

Semi-Final 1 - 1A vs 2B - Saturday 11th November - 17:30 KO [16:30 GMT]

Semi-Final 2 - 1B vs 2A - Saturday 11th November - 19:30 KO [18:30 GMT]

7th Place Play-Off - Sunday 12th November - 10:00 KO [09:00 GMT]

5th Place Play-Off - Sunday 12th November - 12:00 KO [11:00 GMT]

3rd Place Play-Off - Sunday 12th November - 17:00 KO [16:00 GMT]

Final - Sunday 12th November - 19:00 KO [18:00 GMT]

All fixtures can be streamed via the EAFF Facebook page or Flamencos Amputados Sur YouTube channel.


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