A FOOTBALLER has been flying the flag for England and the North-East in the Blind World Games in South Korea.

Owen Bainbridge, from Cockfield, near Bishop Auckland, was part of the England five-a-side football team which reached the finals at the International Blind Sport Federation contest in Seoul last week.

The 25-year-old was born partially sighted but lost his vision completely when he was seven-years-old.

However, he has never let this stand in his way and is now living his dream as a professional footballer, competing in tournaments all over the world.

Held every four years, the Blind World Games attracts blind and partially sighted athletes who compete in a range of disciplines, including athletics, judo, power lifting, swimming and chess.

This year, the football tournament was a closely fought out contest, with England triumphing over South Korea and Japan, drawing with China before defeating Georgia 8-0.

The victory secured Mr Bainbridge and his teammates a place in the final against Argentina but unfortunately the England squad was pipped at the post in the last minute.

“We were winning up until the last 37 seconds but then Argentina scored making it 1-1,” said Mr Bainbridge, who attended Belmont Community School in Durham City.

“A penalty was given with six seconds to go and they scored.”

Despite missing out on the title, the players remain in good spirits and will soon be back training together for the European Championships in Hereford, Herefordshire, in August.

If they secure a gold or silver medal in this contest they will qualify for the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, next year.

Mr Bainbridge described his football career as a dream.

“Nothing compares to it,” he said. “There is nothing I’ve found anywhere that can compete. To have the opportunities to meet people from all over the country and travel the world doing something I love is amazing.”

Referring to his teammates, he added: “I have never known our team to be the way it is at the moment. We are like a family.”

To ensure he is in tiptop shape, Mr Bainbridge trains twice a day, six days a week, and incorporates strength and condition workouts and yoga alongside football into his routine.

In the North-East, he trains at various venues including the Alun Armstrong Sports Centre in Shildon and the Glaxo Sports and Social Club in Barnard Castle.