Brakes and Breeden transform the life of five-year-old Charlie
He is a hate figure for opposition supporters and the scourge of non-league penalty-takers but for one young boy Leamington keeper Tony Breeden is his best friend.
Five-year-old Charlie Reeves’ story captured supporters’ hearts after a message from his mum Hannah was circulated following the home fixture with Witton Albion.
Charlie was a mascot for the Trophy clash, leading the team out alongside his hero Breeden, with Hannah going on to underline how football and Brakes, in particular, had helped transform her son who was born with benign external hydrocephalus.
Several bleeds have formed a chronic clot on the brain, resulting in a severe speech delay, while anxiety, panic attacks, low self-esteem, depression and self-harm have resulted in him being put on the waiting list for an autism diagnosis.
His condition and the meltdowns that accompany it have also proved distressing to his brother Harry, 3, and Hannah admitted football had literally been a lifesaver.
“Charlie finds it extremely hard to go to parties, events, friends’ houses etc and would rather just be with me until he found football,” she wrote.
“He didn’t know what football was until he watched the World Cup and as he’s very obsessional about numbers and counting he liked seeing numbers on the television.
“He wanted to try football so he joined Leamington Brakes Under-6s in June 2018 and loved it. He does find it hard at times with his autistic traits but his coach has been fantastic supporting him.
“Then my Mum and I took him to his first football match at Leamington FC and we actually saw Charlie ‘calm’ for once. He even smiled which is very rare for him.
“He loves counting the score and loves rules and routine so it’s perfect for him.
“He felt at home and there’s no one there judging him or laughing at him.
“Everyone is so welcoming and friendly and that had a huge impact on Charlie wanting to go back again.
“We’ve attended nearly every match since. Charlie idolises Tony Breeden, he calls him his best friend and when children laugh at him he will say ‘it’s okay because my friend is Tony’, and he’s so proud to say that.
“I’ve never seen him so content before. He battles so many demons on a daily basis but what he looks forward to at the end of the week is seeing his favourite team play and for that I cannot thank you - everyone, fans, players, managers, staff etc - enough for giving my son a smile.”
Their story had such an impact on supporters that a plea to help raise money to buy a shirt raised in excess of £300, enabling the club to put together a football package not only for Charlie but for his little brother Harry ahead of the clash with FC United.