A SCHOOLBOY who has beaten the odds to return to mainstream lessons was given a gift to remember by his footballing hero.
Kieran Raby, 14, is preparing to join Greensward Academy, in Greensward Lane, Hockley.
It comes after he spent six years at Seabrook College, in Burr Hill Chase, Southend. The pupil referral unit helps children with behaviour problems.
During his time at Seabrook College, Kieran has built up a close bond with Blues star Jason Demetriou.
The footballer is a regular visitor to the school because of his friendship with interim executive headteacher - who gave him his first big sporting break.
Southend United player Jason was the first to wish Kieran luck as he prepares for his fresh start - presenting him with a signed shirt as a special surprise.
Mr Cook said: “Kieran is a Southend United fanatic. He’s a season ticket holder and he knows more about that team than some of the players and coaches.”
Kieran was presented with a good luck shirt signed by Jason and the team.
Mr Cook added: “He’s a Southend United nut and a season ticket holder.
“Jason Demetriou has been coming to the college on a regular basis. I have known him for many years as I used to work for Lleyton Orient Football Club.
“I gave him his first shot when he joined the youth team and he went on to get a professional contract.”
The Blues defender has also played international football for Cyprus.
He signed with the Shrimpers in June 2016 to be closer to his family in Brentwood.
Mr Cook added: “Jason spends a lot of time here helping the kids as a favour to me.
“With Kieran, because he is a Southend United fan, he really took him under his wing and mentored him.
“Jason is quite upfront in saying that he wasn’t the best behaved kid when he was 14 or 15, but he has become a real role model. Him coming into the college is a huge positive for us.”
Mr Cook hopes Kieran’s success story leads to more Seabrook College students returning to mainstream school.
He said: “We don’t see that many go back, which is a fault of the system really.
“Kieran is a fantastic kid and we’re hoping he will get settled. He’s been going back for half days and a couple of days at a time to prepare. We will be visiting him to make sure it goes smoothly.
“We know Seabrook College hasn’t had the best reputation in the past, but we’re trying to change that. We hope Kieran will be the first of many to make the jump back to mainstream school.
“We’re like a family and there’s a lot of respect between the kids and the staff.”