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Newcastle United, Cancer and Me

The words I thought I would never hear at a young age and how Newcastle United got me through it.

Sport Coronavirus - Saturday 14th March Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Shocked, sat frozen at the words I had just heard from the doctor “You have cancer”. As those words left his mouth the rest of the conversation was a muffled blur. I didn’t even think about anything during that time, just stunned silence.

When I arrived home I just sat on my bed, looking around at the countless number of pictures of attending Newcastle United games with my father. For one reason or another that triggered the tears. Perhaps it was all the memories I was seeing plastered all over the walls, or the thought of leaving not only my immediate family behind but also my Newcastle United family.

I was 5 years old when I attended St James’ Park for the very first time. It wasn’t just a game for me, nor just something to do on a weekend. Attending games with my father was the highlight of my week, it was something truly special. Coming to terms with my diagnosis was incredibly difficult, I asked “Why” a lot.

I decided to let a select few know what I was going through. Though, when I attended St James’ Park for the first time after my diagnosis, those that sat around me knew I wasn’t myself. The Gallowgate end is where I belong and where I have always felt the happiest. The people around me in that glorious stand, just connected with me. Seeing the Wor Flags volunteers create amazing displays made me tear up, I remember seeing a flag of Rafael Benitez and I broke down in the stands. It wasn’t that I was still upset about my diagnosis, I felt I had come to terms with it by then, it was the thought of leaving all this behind.

Newcastle United v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Those that don’t understand football or the fascination with it found it hard to understand my feelings. Newcastle United was and still is a massive part of my life. From the moment I could walk, I had a ball at my feet with a black and white shirt on, with my father trying his best to get me to become the next Alan Shearer. Those long away days in my father’s dark blue Volvo 240, were some the best times of my life. Stopping at service stations for some highly questionable food, the awful mixed tape my father played on every single journey, it was the bond I had with my father through Newcastle United that made each game so very special to me. Trying to explain that to someone with no understanding of football was almost impossible.

The very thought of missing a game made me sick to my stomach, it was just so alien to me. I was so used to the routine of waking up, going in to town with my father and eating a full English before going to the Strawberry. It was what I had been doing for years and to suddenly stop doing that was hard. My father was my rock throughout the toughest period of my life to date. He was one of the very few who understood what I was feeling and what I was going through. It wasn’t just that I had cancer, it was everything else that came with it, everything else that was impacted by the horrible condition.

Newcastle United v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

I remember being so very tired and drained, I could barely keep my eyes open. My father always made sure he put the radio on so I could listen to the match commentary, he would get in his 1980-81 home top as he did for every game. My father would insist I got into my favourite Newcastle United top, the 95-97 home shirt. He was determined to make it feel like a normal match day despite not being in attendance. Donned in a black and white scarf my father would swing it around above his head, while singing the Blaydon Races, as my mam walked by with a look of sheer bemusement. The effort my father put in to keep things as normal as possible was incredible, I will always be grateful to him for that. Sometimes I would drift off while the commentary was on, only to be woken by screams of “Howay man, we can do better than this!”

Without Newcastle United and my father I don’t think I would have had the strength to fight as hard as I did. Looking back I can’t believe how many hospital appointments and tests I went through, it has made me realise how hard it must have been for my parents.

It was a very wet and windy Wednesday morning, I had an appointment to see the doctor. By this point I was in a dark place, I felt I had come to terms with everything but I really hadn’t. Despite my father’s best efforts I just felt alone and trapped. The rain bounced off the Volvo’s windows, it was incredibly dark and dreary, almost like a scene from a horror film. Me and my father sat in the small room, wet and tired, I then received the news that I was all clear.

Just like the diagnosis, I was stunned but this was a different kind of stunned. I suddenly had energy again, it was as if someone had put some powerful batteries in me. It was a feeling that I have never felt before, relief, happiness and all the stress lifted because of a few words.

Fast forward to today, I’m fit and well, I have a beautiful wife and have a son of my own. A son, who I have already brainwashed at a very young age, just like my father did with me. My father and mam have retired to France, my father watches local football every week hoping to find a hidden gem he can tell Newcastle United about. It’s like a reset in a way, for me and Newcastle United. We can look forward to a bright future, attending games under an ownership with the ambition to take the club forward. Nobody can tell me that football doesn’t matter because without it, I’m not sure if I would be here now.