They say you should never meet your heroes as they usually leave you disappointed. Not so for me when I met up with Eric Bristow for an interview for TheNonLeague magazine...
The name Eric Bristow has been synonymous with the game of darts for over 40 years. The first player to be named World Champion five times, Bristow also won The World Darts Masters Championship five times and spent seven years as the World number one.
Known as ‘The Crafty Cockney’ the world over, Bristow was awarded an MBE in 1989 for his services to sport and is still one of the leading lights in the game, these days as a vital part of SKY Sports commentary team as well as being one of the most sought after names on the ‘after dinner speakers’ circuit.
I caught up with the legendary darts star shortly before he set off to take his place in the commentary box for The World Championship at the Alexandra Palace in London.
“I think this will be the best world championship ever, I know we say it every year but this time around there are genuinely at least a dozen potential winners. I love working for SKY on the commentary team, they know what I’m like and they just let me get on with it”
‘Getting on with it’ includes plenty of banter from Bristow, usually at someone else’s expense. A man who spends time in the commentary box with Bristow is another former player Wayne Mardle, who sometimes comes in for some light-hearted stick “I have pulled Wayne up in the past when he tells viewers how players will be preparing for a world final. He’s never been in one. He’s been in five semi-finals but even then he lost all them so I would have no problem with him telling people how to prepare for a quarter-final”
Many would think that typical of a man who exploded on to the darts scene whilst still in his teens “I was a young kid that came into an old man’s game and being English I was used to people not being too downhearted at coming second. I wanted to be number one and wasn’t frightened of telling people so. That made me out to be brash but I told everyone that I was going to be number one and then went out and did it”
His abrasive manner and charm was one of the reasons he had been approached to appear on the reality TV series “I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here” before he agreed to join the cast for the 2012 series.
With the most recent series ending a couple of days earlier, Bristow had plenty to say about the show that he had finished fourth on three years ago “They weren’t a good group this year, far too many people in there behaving like spoilt brats. I think Tony (Hadley) and Duncan (Ballantyne) created most of the problems just by biting back when Lady C taunted them. I would have just told her to **ck off and don’t talk to me again, then just ignored her afterwards”
Bristow clearly enjoyed his appearance alongside the likes of former boxer David Haye, Coronation Street actress Helen Flanagan and eventual winner Eastenders actress Charlie Brooks “I went down well in the jungle because I was honest and straight with people. The thing is you just don’t know until you meet these people how you will get on with them. I think the only person I upset was the chef Rosemary Shrager. She is a lovely lady if a little overweight, and she had commented on David Haye going to the gym and I said that I knew of a machine at the gym she’d like. When she asked which one I replied ‘The vending machine’. We did get on in the end but she wasn’t best pleased at the time”
After being such a hit with the show’s audience it’s inevitable that Bristow has been asked to appear on more reality shows in the future “The problem is if I get stuck with the wrong people it could all go wrong. I can’t lie that’s my problem. I get asked if I want to go on to ‘Strictly’ every year but it doesn’t interest me. It’s not for me. I’m not skint so I don’t need to go doing these things for the sake of it. The jungle to me was a challenge. I wouldn’t mind a go at that Big Brother although you do get a lot of dips in there”
Outside of darts Bristow is a fan of most sports especially the beautiful game. A renowned Chelsea supporter he also attended many an Arsenal game as a youth “My dad was always Arsenal and he used to take me all over watching The Gunners. We went to every home and away game and every FA Cup game when they won the double in 1971, although when I say ‘we’ I should point out that my dad could only get one ticket for the Final at Wembley, so he went without me, it was the only game I missed that season”
With his beloved Chelsea currently struggling to regain the form that saw them regain the Premier League title upon Jose Mourinho’s return to the club. Amidst talk of ‘the special one’ losing his job Bristow has opinions on where things have gone wrong this season “The thing is if we get rid of Mourinho who do we replace him with? Until one of the big name players actually leaves the club we will probably not find out what has really gone on. In my opinion it all stems from the situation with the club doctor. All those players, regardless of how much money they earn, don’t want to see a man have a go at a woman. In this country men don’t have a go at a woman. Men have a go at men. I think he should have been a bigger man and admitted he was wrong. She only did what the referee told her to do, what’s she supposed to do, let a man die on the pitch?”
Having moved up from London as a 23 year-old Bristow settled in Leek several years ago and has sponsored games at the local football club in recent times “I’ve lived in the town for years and I love it here, so when I was asked a couple of years ago to sponsor a match I was happy to do it. They lost the first game I sponsored but this season they won my sponsored game against Daventry 5-1.
“The first time I was at Leek Town I was asked to kick off the match. The idea was I would take the kick off and then run off. The problem was it was pouring down so I was wearing a pair of wellies so I couldn’t run properly. As I set off one of the lads drilled the ball straight back towards me but luckily for me he missed”
One unlikely friendship Bristow forged thanks to his move to Staffordshire was with the legendary footballer Stanley Matthews “A pal of mine bought all Stan’s memorabilia off him when he was struggling for a few quid. I went round with him and me and Stan got on straight away. He was a lovely bloke, I really liked him and went to Stoke games with him quite often. He was a real legend, I once went to play darts in Canada and in a bar in the middle of nowhere they had a photo of him on the wall. It’s a shame he’s no longer with us and I miss his company”
Sadly Eric himself passed away in April 2018, I only ever met him on that one occasion but we spent a few hours in the pub chatting about all sorts of stuff. As you can imagine he had an opinion on almost everything and gave me so much info that I just couldn’t print. Later that evening I received a call off his agent who had set up the meeting and he told me that Eric had rung him to say he had enjoyed our time together because I had made him feel at ease. He also commented on the fact that Eric had given me his mobile phone number, adding “he only ever gives his number to people he feels he can trust”
God bless Eric RIP
An early music hero of my youth is bass player Jah Wobble, who I had seen as part of Public Image Ltd, many years later after we met and became good friends I interviewed him for TheNonLeague magazine and also played a big part in his son earning a youth contract with York City...
Now a resident of Cheshire, Londoner Jah Wobble, a founder member of 1970's group Public Image Limited (PiL), is fast becoming an expert on non-league football thanks to regular visits to games in his adopted north-west home.
The well renowned bass guitar player, real name John Wardle, became known the world over as Jah Wobble after the Sex Pistol's Sid Vicious had had trouble pronouncing his name, Wardle decided to keep the nickname as he knew it would be instantly recognisable everywhere. PiL were formed after The Sex Pistols had broken up and Johnny Rotten asked former school friend Wardle to join him in his new venture. Guitarist Keith Levene, a former member of The Clash, and drummer Jim Walker made up the group.
A season ticket holder at White Hart Lane for many years, the bassist continued to travel down from his new home in Stockport to watch his beloved Tottenham Hotspur on a regular basis, however since moving to the north-west some years ago he has attended several games at Edgeley Park. One of those early County games, included the 4-1 win over Manchester City in the testimonial match for current manager Jim Gannon back in 2000, when County were an established Championship side.
Following the Cheshire club’s drop into non-league football just 10 seasons later he has continued to watch The Hatters and has even provided match summary for BBC Radio Manchester and match commentary for local radio Pure FM at Edgeley Park “I was first offered the opportunity to commentate on a game against Kidderminster Harriers a few years ago and I have to say I absolutely loved it. At the time County were struggling near the foot of the Conference and Kidderminster were going for promotion but Jim had his side set up well and they won the game”
When not touring or recording with his band ‘The Invaders of the Heart’, Wobble is becoming a regular on the non-league scene, naming Curzon Ashton and FC United amongst the new grounds he has visited this season “I no longer have a season ticket for ‘the lane’, although I still attend games as and when I can. I have been to several non-league games this season, invariably featuring County as they are my local side. I went to the game at Broadhurst Park against FC United earlier in the season as a guest of a pal who is involved FC, whilst I went to Curzon Ashton with another pal”.
Hooked on football from an early age thanks to the exploits of Jimmy Greaves, Wobble has many memories of his time following Spurs both home and away “I come from a family of West Ham and Millwall supporters but I remember seeing Spurs on the TV and they stood out due to their all-white kit, plus they had two players that caught my eye in Jimmy Greaves and Alan Gilzean who to this day are still my favourite ever players. I started supporting Spurs aged six, much to the consternation of my family, who were a mixture of West Ham and Millwall fans. I remember as a 10-year-old I made my way over to White Hart Lane from the East End, to watch my first ever ‘live’ game. I vividly recall my first glimpse of the pitch that greeted me upon arrival at the top of the stairs at the 'Shelfside'. I was awe struck”.
Wobble carried on following Spurs throughout his youth, and with his old pal Johnny Rotten being an Arsenal fan there were obviously times that football caused disagreements in the dressing room. Wobble also found there both advantages and disadvantages to being a ‘face’ when travelling to watch his team on their European jaunts:
“Back in 1983/84 season Spurs were away at Feyenoord for the second leg of a UEFA Cup tie, even though they had a good side, including Ruud Gullit and Johann Cruyff, we had won the home leg comfortably. There was a bit of trouble before and during the game, which we won 2-0 thanks to goals from Chris Hughton and Tony Galvin. At the time I was being followed by a Dutch photographer who was taking photos for a Dutch music/cultural magazine. The problem was that because of all the mayhem going on in the ground the only photos he managed to grab were of me scaling the bloody fence”
“We reached the Final that season and we were away in the first leg against Anderlecht, ‘Max’ Miller scored for us and we drew 1-1 although we played them off the park to be fair. In the buildup it was announced that no Spurs supporters were allowed to book into the local hotels, but as I was well connected in Brussels through my music contacts, I managed to convince a record distributor to book a load of rooms for me and the lads by telling them that I was bringing over a load of record company executives. I made sure that no-one turned up too drunk or wearing colours, but the only thing was the minute everyone had booked in we all congregated in reception in match day mode, colours and songs a plenty. The hotel staff were horrified, but it was too late.
Even though his new found love of non-league football is a far cry from his days as a regular on the European circuit watching Tottenham, Wobble believes the atmosphere is on a par with the best supported clubs in the top tier “the thing that stands out for me is that the camaraderie in non-league is second to none. There is a similar ‘tribal’ feel at every game, no matter what size the crowd there is always that old school ‘one town against another’ vibe. The fact that it is done with so much humour is what makes it so unique”.
The standard of football and in particular the standard of players in non-league football have certainly made an impression on Wobble too “I remember the first time I saw Danny Whitehead playing at County when I was commentating on the game, I said he had the makings of a Football League player. It was no surprise to me that he earned a move to West Ham as he reminded me of their type of player of older days. It’s great to see that after a return to non-league football he has signed for Wigan, who could be back in the Championship next season. I think the young wing back at Curzon (Jordan Wright) looks a similar bet, I really enjoyed watching him against County earlier this season”.
The musician has recently found another reason to commit himself to his local non-league scene as his 16-year-old son Charlie, who spent three years in Wigan Athletic’s Academy, has attracted interest from several clubs. The young striker impressed in several Under 21 and ‘trial’ games during January before registering with North West Counties outfit Northwich Manchester Villa. Wobble was a very proud father as he watched Charlie make his debut as substitute as the club took on promotion chasing Ashton Town at the end of the month.
For details on all tours & music visit www.jahwobble.com
Whilst editor of TheNonLeague magazine I interviewed some great characters and some great footballers, Jamie Vardy was on the way to establishing himself as one of The Premier League's top players when we spoke...
After 11 weeks of the 2015/16 Premier league season there was a surprise name at the top of the leading scorers list – former non-league striker Jamie Vardy. The Leicester City forward began the new campaign on fire and had doubled his Premier League tally of five last season after just 10 games.
Former Halifax Town striker Vardy has earned himself a whole new army of admirers with his displays since moving to the East Midlands outfit from Fleetwood Town back in 2012, including current England manager Roy Hodgson who has capped him four times for England in the last six months.
Vardy's journey, from working in a factory in Sheffield to full England honours in just three years, is a lesson to all footballers not to give up too easily if they have been rejected at an early stage in their career.
The striker had been released aged 16 by Sheffield Wednesday, the club he’d been at for five years, as ‘too small’ just weeks before a growth spurt that would see him shoot up almost eight inches in height.
It was during this period that the striker contemplated walking away from football altogether “Wednesday was the club I’d supported all my life and when I got released it made me think that football wasn’t for me. I had a growth spurt literally a month after I got released and that made it even worse”
After eight months out of football, during which Vardy studied sports science in Rotherham he began playing again for local club Wickersley Youth. After an impressive display against Stocksbridge Park Steels he moved to the Sheffield club.
In the second of his four years in the youth team at Stocksbridge there was further drama for the striker as he became involved in an altercation, resulting in a conviction that saw him wearing an electronic tag. "I’d been out with a friend who wore a hearing aid and two lads thought it would be funny to start mocking him and attacking him. I’m not proud of what I did but I defended him, which I’d always do for a mate, and it got me in trouble.
The tag, which Vardy had to wear for six months, proved to be a problem when it came to the team’s away fixtures with their striker only available to play an hour in certain games before being substituted so that he could be home in time for the curfew he had been placed under. “It was a case of hope we were winning, jump over the fence and straight in my parents’ car to make sure I was home in time”
Once in the first team at Stocksbridge Park Steels, Vardy helped the club to win promotion from the Northern Premier League, grabbing 66 goals in 107 appearances. His displays attracted the attention of several Football League clubs but for varying reasons none were inclined to take a chance on signing the prolific striker.
Sheffield United had him watched on many occasion but were put off by his temperament, two sending’s off whilst under their scout’s visits. Steels did turn down an offer from Rotherham United as being ‘derisory’ whilst Crewe Alexandra decided against signing him after a two week trial.
It was Yorkshire rivals Halifax Town that finally took a chance on Vardy and their reward was instant, the striker scoring 27 goals in his first season as the club won promotion to the Conference North.
“My time at Halifax was great they were, and still are, a club that want to be back where they belong in the Football League. The players, manager and staff all knew this, and with Neil Aspin in charge he got the best out of us all and we cruised the league to become champions with plenty of games spare”
Just weeks into the following season and the former factory worker was on the move again as Conference outfit Fleetwood Town came calling.
Fleetwood Chairman Andy Pilley explained how Vardy arrived at Highbury “We had just opened a £5 Million Stand, we felt that the squad we had put together was good enough to compete in the race to win a place in the Football League but started the season badly. It was blatantly obvious that we needed goals having only managed two in the first five games.
“We spoke to several scouts and one name kept coming back to us. Having agreed with our manager that we needed him, I spoke to the chairman of Halifax who wanted £150,000 for him which was a lot of money to a club like ours. Nobody in the Football League was prepared to pay that for a player untried in professional football and scoring his goals against postmen and electricians. I knew he was a risk worth taking and we signed the deal”
Vardy began repaying the faith Fleetwood had shown in him almost immediately and following a 29 game unbeaten run the club clinched the title with a couple of games to go, the hitman grabbing 34 goals in his 40 games.
His form following the step up in class attracted further attention from League Clubs but Pilley knew that he needed his star striker to finish his mission “We'd signed Jamie to do a job and that was to get us into the Football League. He wanted to play at the highest level, but we told him his job was to get us up and after that we would shake hands and wish him all the best. At lot of people would have sulked, but he got on with it. He wasn't half-hearted, knowing he would be gone in five months. He only knows one level and that's 10 out of 10. It’s very rare to find a player with Jamie’s pace and finishing ability and I’m fairly sure we wouldn’t have made it to the Football League without him”
Vardy himself has nothing but good memories from his all too brief time at Highbury “What can I say about Fleetwood, if it wasn't for them taking a gamble on me who knows if I'd be where I am today, we got promoted playing attractive football. The dressing room was quality, every player full of banter never quiet and always having a laugh, it was only a short eight months I was there but my time there will never be forgotten and I always have a catch up with the boys”
Championship outfit Leicester City, managed by Nigel Pearson paid £1M for his services, a record non-league fee. Former Wednesday skipper Pearson had personally invited Vardy to his Sheffield home to convince the striker to join the East Midlands club.
Vardy’s first season for Leicester City was a disappointment as he suffered both injury and a loss of form, the latter saw him become the victim of taunts from his own supporters. Once again the striker doubted himself and asked his new manager Nigel Pearson to send him out on loan. Pearson refused, convincing the forward of his belief in him. The following season Vardy repaid the faith his manager had shown in him, plundering 16 goals as The Foxes were promoted to The Premier League as Champions.
Five goals in his first season in the top flight was probably less than Vardy or his club would have liked, although he did grab the headlines for his performance and goal in the 5-3 home win against Manchester United. He would also score crucial winning goals against Burnley and West Brom as The Foxes won six of eight games to preserve their premier League status.
This season Vardy has blossomed into the striker he knew deep inside that he could be and hopes that his story encourages all young English footballers to follow their dreams “I hope it does inspire others, obviously a lot of hard work has had to go into it. If that does show people that it can happen and make them try harder to become better players then it's only going to benefit the country”.
Pop star Daz Sampson wanted the chance to carve a career in football and having had some success abroad felt that he should be given an opportunity in his homeland...
Having achieved success as a football coach in places as varied as Poland and the Pacific Island of Guam, Daz Sampson is looking to get into football management in his native England. However, his previous life as a successful ‘pop star’ appears to be a major stumbling block.
As a young pacy winger Sampson was on the books of his local side Stockport County before a motorbike accident saw any chance of a career at the club ended. Several years in the pop industry both as a singer and a DJ followed but having tasted success abroad, Sampson explains that he feels he should be given a chance to make his name in this country….
I don’t think that many people realise that I have spent several years involved in managing and coaching football abroad. I’ve worked in Poland, America and on the Pacific island of Guam before spending some time last season as part of the coaching staff at North West Counties club Ashton Town which gave me a great insight to the game at this level.
Once I had been forced to quit playing I had always fancied the idea of becoming involved in a coaching capacity at some level and my Polish ‘adventure’ gave me the perfect opportunity to learn more about the coaching side of the game.
‘Uniting Nations’ the band I was in, had three Number One hits in Poland and myself and my agent had also bought shares in a Night Club so we were over there from Thursday to Sunday night more or less every week.
I’d go and watch the local semi-professional side over the weekend and it wasn’t long before I was attending training sessions, before eventually being invited to take a few sessions in order to give them some English ideas.
Before long I was offered the manager’s job with a side close to the foot of the table in the Polish third tier. The lads took on board everything I asked of them, we quickly moved up the table to finish third only to lose in the play-off final. I left half way through the following season, with the club in the top four, having won 13 of the 20 games played. I had sold my share in the Night Club and it was time for me to return home, but I left with an enormous feeling of self-satisfaction and the drive to earn as many coaching qualifications as possible – I knew that it was to be football where my future lay.
My return home didn’t really go as planned, a couple of small businesses that I was involved in went under and I also went through a divorce, all of which knocked my confidence. I decided to move away and I ended up on the tiny island of Guam, 10,000 miles from the UK.
Again my football desire took me to the local ground where a brief chat led to me meeting the owner after the game. As ever the hunger for the English game was prevalent amongst the islanders, indeed the Guam national team were managed by Gary White, a former Bognor Regis player. And before long, just as in Poland, I found myself being asked to help out a team at the bottom of the table, as player/coach.
I threw myself into the role and helped the team to win six of the last eight games to ensure that they stayed in the top division, which I would say is Evo-Stik standard with a lot of international players from Guam and the surrounding islands playing in the league.
We added a few players to the squad and we were near the top for much of the next season, before finishing second and also winning the Cup. I befriended several Koreans whilst on Guam, and was invited to go to Korea to do some coaching and football psychology courses. All of which added to my growing knowledge of the role.
I enjoyed a couple of amazing years on Guam, winning around 78% of the games, the game was growing at a rapid pace with money coming into the Federation due to the national sides’ successful world cup qualifying campaign in which they had beaten Turkmenistan and India in the qualifiers for the 2018 tournament.
I then moved to Florida, where my friend John Robinson, the former Charlton Athletic and Welsh international player, was coaching in Fort Myers. John passed me some contacts of his in Tampa, from which I landed a coaching role at a small club just north of Tampa. The franchise was set up to enter the American ‘development’ League. I was coaching a side full of students from the likes of Peru, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Trinidad. The team could only play ‘friendlies’ whilst awaiting confirmation of a place in the league, losing only two of eighteen games.
With further complications regarding the team’s place in the league I received an offer of a role working with a State University in Iowa but I had decided that it was about time I returned home, I was missing my kids and believe it or not the weather. I was also looking forward to trying my hand in the English game.
I had enjoyed my time in Guam and Florida, working with players who didn’t know me as anything other than a football coach, I know that over my years in Poland, Guam and America I have grown as a football coach, helped in no small way by the fact that I was allowed to be me, and not a former ‘pop star’.
I returned to North West England after four years in which I had been managing at various levels of the game, both professionally and semi-professionally and I assumed that my experience would count for something as I applied for several jobs in and around the area – How wrong could I have been!!
I wasn’t even getting the courtesy of a return call and it soon became apparent that people could not see past the fact that I had been a ‘pop star’ in the past. The fact that I was more qualified and had managed at higher levels than pretty much everyone else going for the jobs counted for nothing. I must admit that the situation really shocked me.
To keep myself busy, and to practise what I’d learned in Asia, I joined Cheshire League team Billinge. I was there for ten games, winning nine and drawing one, before I got a call from an old mate Mark Hayes at Ashton Town. He asked if I’d go in there as a number two.
To be honest, it was a bit of struggle, I wasn't getting listened to by the manager, who didn’t appear happy that the Chairman had brought me in. Thanks to a couple of business men that I know I organised a huge sponsorship deal for the club in exchange for me having a more ‘hands on’ role. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be so I walked away from the club. Since then I have kept myself busy by attending games, keeping files on players and applying for manager’s jobs.
Just before Christmas last year I was offered the manager’s job at a Hallmark Security League club, and though they were struggling at the bottom of the league, I was up for the challenge. I had watched the team in their previous game on the Saturday and I must say it was the best I had seen them play in recent weeks, they were unlucky to lose and I told them so before I took training the following night.
I had invited a few new players in to join us that evening and in all honesty training went really well, so much so that several of the existing players commented on how fresh it had all felt. We had a debrief and discussed the upcoming game at the weekend and I went home pleased with my night’s work. The next day I received a call from the club secretary to tell me that the offer of the manager’s role had been withdrawn since there was some hesitance behind the scenes because I was more known for being a pop star than a football man.
If I’m honest it took me a few weeks to get over that setback, mainly because it was the second time that this particular club had let me down. A few weeks earlier, amidst a particularly bad run of form, the club had invited me in to take on the manager’s job, but because the team had put in a decent performance over the weekend, they decided to give the then manager a couple more games. The embarrassing thing for me was that on both occasions I had already promised players a place in the squad and they had told their clubs that they were moving on. As you can imagine I was left with a considerable amount of egg on my face.
I have recently had offers to manage in India and back in America but I am determined to make a name for myself in this country for my football ability. I have watched every club in the Evo-Stik and Hallmark League’s this season, I’m at a more games than most scouts these days. I am doing everything I can to find a club over here that will give me the break I know I deserve. I’ve always been a fighter and I have great self-belief and l know that I will definitely improve a team both in playing ability and performances.
I just need that chance to prove it!!
Every now and then you get the chance to interview someone who is making a difference in other peoples lives after undergoing problems in their own, Julian Reeback is one such person...
At FootieWithDad we live and breathe football, the beautiful game has a habit of bringing people together in good times and bad. One of the reasons why FootieWithDad came to the fold, is because of an idea centred around the close-knit bond Football has helped create between my son and me.
There were unfortunate difficulties when my son was born nearly 12 years ago, the first eleven months of his life were spent in hospital with the outcome looking bleak. During many hours, days and nights spent by his bedside wishing it was me lying there and swap places, one thought kept me going through the pain and struggle of it all – The thought of taking him to watch a game at my beloved White Hart Lane, holding him aloft as we celebrated a win – was just a small dream that I hoped that would one day become reality all being well.
However, with my son’s condition critical, the dream and the opportunity to take him to Spurs and experience what a football match is all about seemed far out of reach as time went on.
Luckily enough, I’m pleased to say, after numerous operations he became stronger and It wasn’t long before he was able to come home for the first time and meet the family properly – At the time I remember looking back and thinking about the dream I had for my son and I to go to the football together – I knew with this good news that one day my hope of taking him to football was an immense possibility!
Three years ago, the day I had been waiting for had come to the surface – I was lucky enough to take my son to his first ever football match!
As we headed into the game and the whistle blew to get the match underway, I was worried my son wouldn’t like it as much as I hyped it up in my head and that he wouldn’t want to go again with his old Dad!
I spent the whole match, not watching the match, but watching him – Thankfully, my son really enjoyed his first game and so it was that Football with Dad was born!
Before I became a Dad, I travelled to as many away games as I could following Tottenham Hotspur up and down the country. Like everyone from time to time, I used to get very upset and frustrated when we hadn’t played well and lost the game, thinking what a waste of time & money it had all been – not to mention the long trip home!
Last year my son suggested we go to Newcastle United vs Spurs, this was my son’s furthest away game he had attended. We were in good spirits prior to the game as we left London at the early time of 6.00 am and catching the train from Kings Cross station.
Spurs had been playing superbly all season and Newcastle had just been relegated to The Championship in the weeks before – Surely there was only one outcome? What could go wrong?
As Daryl Janmaat popped up with the fifth goal confirming the 5-1 demolition by the Toon Army on that tragic May afternoon, I remember turning around to my son and saying: “Sorry about the result son, I hope this hasn’t ruined our trip too much!”
To my surprise and absolute delight, my son replied with: “Dad – win, lose or draw I love my football days with you, can we try going to every away game next season please?”
In a nutshell, that is why going to the football with my son means so much to me, the pure enjoyment on his face while watching the game, no matter what the result may be.
The thought of getting up next weekend and doing it all over again is one of excitement like a kid at Christmas and that’s just me!
FootieWithDad isn’t just for Dad’s, all parents/grandparents/guardians are welcome to share their experiences with their offspring, together at your chosen favourite football club – Whoever you support, whatever league your team is in, whatever country you reside from – you’re welcome to share your stories with us!
On our Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages you can follow, like and share all the exciting things we have planned for FootieWithDad – pictures, videos, experiences, news, match facts, teams, players, transfers, polls, trivia, PRIZE GIVEAWAYS and much more will be coming to you via FootieWithDad!
Get involved by sharing your stories with us in whatever way you feel is best – At one time, I thought it might not be possible to share mine – It’s uplifting to hear similar stories being brought together by the sport we all love and enjoy.
Mine and my son’s shared story started off as a dream and the reality is now luckily second to none, this is the special bond that football has created between us, this could be you and your loved one too!
Another young boy that I met during my days editing TheNonLeague magazine was the inspirational Alfie Lund. Having featured his cause in the early days of the magazine, I caught up with the family again to check on the progress of their fight to raise awareness of the rare illness that Alfie suffers from...
Early last season TheNonLeague featured an article about 8 year old Alfie Lund, who suffers from the life limiting disorder Mecp2 Duplication syndrome. Alfie’s parents Rachel and Mark, along with eldest son Cameron, have spent the last two years raising awareness of the illness and having recently completed their journey we asked Mark to bring us all up to date with their astonishing story.
As a family we have been on an incredible journey to raise awareness of Mecp2 Duplication syndrome whilst at the same time raising much needed funds for the newly founded charity Mecp2 Duplication UK.
How did we do it? We decided to try and create the longest chain of football memorabilia consisting of football shirts, scarves and flags donated by supporters and clubs from around the world. We were then invited to football grounds around the country to put it on display.
We started at our local park with Burscough Richmond FC and finishing the season in May 2015 at Ewood Park. We had planned to stop then but due to the demand from clubs and supporters we carried on for another year.
Mecp2 Duplication syndrome is a devastating disorder which affects our little boy in every way. He has profound and multiple learning difficulties, he can’t walk or talk, suffers from recurrent chronic chest infections and pneumonia and epilepsy with multiple types of seizures which in time will become very difficult to control amongst many other problems. The latter two sadly will cause his life to be dramatically shortened with almost half affected passing away before age 25.
When Alfie was diagnosed four years ago there were only seven children here in the UK with the disorder that number now stands at 37. We work closely with Mecp2 Duplication UK to raise awareness and funds for them which help families in times of financial difficulty, assist in the provision of special toys, clothing etc. They also organize and help fund regular meet ups of the families in the UK. They share our vision of making special memories and supporting others in times of difficulty and bereavement which is why Alfie’s mum, Rachel is a trustee.
In May this year, editor Phil Brennan asked if we’d like to do a follow up article about our travels through the 2015/16 season. So with that in mind we went away and decided how best to do the story and decided to give everyone an insight for the first time about how we went from rock bottom to triumph in May of this year through a very stormy season in more ways than one.
May 2nd 2015 at Blackburn Rovers v Ipswich Town the warning signs where there. I was struggling doing three matches a week, juggling work and hectic family life coupled with Alfie’s multiple hospital appointments I was exhausted and if I’m honest an emotional wreck. I began to struggle being in crowds of people, I had lost my get up and go. My confidence was shot and I felt at rock bottom. I’d been signed off work with anxiety and depression but it was the last game, I couldn’t let people down and we had a friend coming over from Germany with many items he has collected from the Bundesliga and a family who had travelled up from Kent to be there.
What should have been a great day to remember was probably one of my darkest days, or at least that’s how it felt at the time. I spent the whole time wanting to just get home and be by myself. I couldn’t understand how it had come to this but the combination of work load and speaking about Alfie’s condition regularly had taken its toll. When your child receives a diagnosis like Alfie’s you have to learn to come to terms with it on reflection I don’t think I had done that fully. Mental health issues sadly are still taboo to talk about to some degree and so I felt I needed to give just a small insight into it.
At the time I couldn’t tell anyone, I didn’t want to distract from the reason we were going round grounds, for the Mecp2 families. I took a nine week counselling course and it was the best thing I could have done. I was also on strict instructions to rest completely for the duration of the summer. I was about to go back to work when Alfie was hospitalized with pneumonia. Fortunately, he recovered well and was home after a few days.
The season had now begun and I still hadn’t decided what to do or if I could do another year on the road, but I had to beat this so on 15thAugust we went to FC United v Tamworth to meet friends, no football chain just a match to see how I would cope. We took in a few more games at our club Skelmersdale United, still no football chain and Tuesday night games were out for next few weeks as that was my counselling night but it was slowly working. I was beginning to feel more like myself. September brought a trip to Tranmere v Chester to meet up with the Lee Knight Foundation. I was beginning to feeling like the time was right to fight on and get the flags and scarves back out again.
The 26th September myself and the boys, Cameron and Alfie, flags and all at Bamber Bridge v Skelmersdale United. It felt good, it felt like I was winning the battle! Next we were home for our first Tuesday night. NPL style flags out for Skelmersdale United v Darlington 1883 a hard fought draw and massive respect for the invite to the return fixture and all the support after the game.
October came but Alfie was ill again and couldn’t make the journey to Sheffield FC, the oldest club in the world against Trafford FC who also invited us. While we were back on the road we also had Ipswich Town fan Malcom Thompson who had given up his season ticket to follow the winner of every round of the FA Cup also Marius Eversmann in Germany ground hopping all over Europe posting pictures of an Alfie Lund Fund and Mecp2 Duplication UK wristband in every ground he visited. Some amazing awareness raised! Thank you.
Next up was Warrington Town v Harrogate Railway and a fantastic day of support with a bin bag full of scarves and shirts collected. So far the weather had been relatively kind but all that was about to change. Moor Lane was next on our tour, home of Salford City and the Class of ‘92’ against Southport in the FA Cup. A memorable day and in my eyes goal of the season from James Poole to knock Southport out of the FA Cup with Gary Neville and Paul Scholes kindly showing their support and holding up our banner.
The next game needed a new plan of action. After torrential rain in the second half it took us a week to dry out the scarves so we decided to retire them until Skelmersdale United’s last home game and out came the flags to decorate the grounds. Our next stops were second trips to Chorley FC and Burscough FC were we surrounded as much of the grounds as we could with the flags. We were then invited over the Lancaster City Ladies FC on 1stNovember. They showed a huge amount of support presenting Alfie with his own shirt. Thanks Ladies! It rained at all three matches and with the ongoing forecast not looking good we decided to take some time out. Our last game of 2015 was Skelmersdale United v Ashton Athletic.
The weather was so bad in the coming weeks and with matches being postponed every week we wouldn’t be back at Skem United until the middle of February. Stormy Corner took on a whole new meaning when the ground was flooded and looked more like a swimming pool than a pitch. Seeing the devastation, the floods had on our own Skelmersdale United prompted us to donate hampers to them and the also badly affected Ramsbottom United to help raise some funds to repair the damage caused.
I had now made it to New Year and now armed with extra confidence it was time to finish what I had started. It’s at this point I would I would like to thank my eldest son Cameron who in my eyes is the unsung hero giving up his time to come with me all over and standing in for Alfie when he wasn’t well enough to attend. Helping with all the hard graft putting all the flags out at grounds and being so supportive.
On 2nd January we welcomed Marius Eversmann back to England all the way from Leverkusen armed with an another suitcase of items from The Bundesliga and all the other games he attended so it was a day back to Burscough FC and more rain! Huge thanks to Marius for all his support and getting articles printed over in Germany to raise more awareness. Superb!
Trafford FC v Ossett Town welcomed us next were we had a fantastic response from both clubs. We would meet The ‘Backslappers’ again come April. February brought us back home to Skem (at last) v Ilkeston FC were we unveiled Alfie’s advertising board pitch side. A wonderful gesture from Skelmersdale United. Proud to call you our club.
Back on the road at the end of February for a trip to the Midlands and the home of Stourbridge FC against Mickleover Sports. We had a fantastic day and the support was fantastic with the club donating their football from their FA Cup game against Eastleigh. Huge thanks to the club and Andy Poutney is a legend. Top fella with a big heart. The friends we made that day followed us to Halesowen in March to support us all over again. The last game that month was a damp and freezing night fixture at Ramsbottom. This was another first for the chain, by the time the game was over the flags had frozen which only meant one thing, cranking up the heating for more drying out time. The song by Travis ‘Why does it always rain on me’ springs to mind.
March sees the weather begin to improve and we were back home to Skem for a cracking match which saw them beat Salford City and Alfie now had his own football song “With a pie in his hand and his flags in the stand were all supporting Alfie, Alfie Lund” Quality!
During March we went to Prescot Cables v Warrington Town and Nantwich Town v Barwell followed by another trip to the Midlands for Halesowen Town v Stourbridge FC where we had hoped to meet up with a family from there whose son had just been diagnosed unfortunately due to ill health they were unable to attend however Halesowen Town will go on to support them as the little boys Grandad used to play for them, brilliant. The belief that we are making a difference and helping other families is what keeps us going until the end of the season.
It was around this time that fears we’d had for a few weeks were confirmed. Alfie had begun to have a new type of seizure. Not as scary or debilitating as his others but a reminder that this is his condition progressing. We were closely monitoring him along with his consultant and we made the decision to carry on after all, Alfie loves his trips out to the match. The smile he gives when we say it is pie and peas and match day are priceless. A boost to moral came through the door in the form of a pennant signed by the one and only Lionel Messi signed personally to Alfie. Wow!
The seasons end was nigh and it was over to Yorkshire. The journey down the M62 was awful. Rain was torrential and the thought was never in a million years will this game go ahead. When we arrived there were more people on the pitch with folks that there where when the game started. Word had got out that Alfie’s home win rate was over 90% and with a win needed, was Alfie going to do it again? Absolutely. Superb support from Ossett Town.
The journey continued with a trip to Darlington a game postponed in January. We have honoured all the games so it was up to Darlo v Skem on a Tuesday night and due to the weather again the game was played at Spennymoor’s ground were we were joined by Alfie’s uncle and cousins who live in Darlington making it a real family affair. Huge respect to Darlo for their support and hospitality and an invite to return next season in the National League North.
So here we go the last time the flags and scarves will surround a pitch for Alfie and MECP2 Duplication UK, please don’t rain! Very nervous but with my top man and eldest son Cameron we surrounded the pitch. At 3.06 with the help of all the supporters we lifted the football chain up to remember the 96 who lost their lives at Hillsborough. A very emotional moment for all the family to be involved in.
The scarves put away for the last time we went on to Ashton Town v St Helen’s Town (step 6) which meant we had now attended a game at every level. Our final game was a rearranged fixture for 1874 Northwich bringing the total to 77 games attended.
That was the end of what had been an exhausting and emotional two years and an incredible journey through non-league football or so I thought. There was to be one more stop along the way. The message came from Skelmersdale United’s Kev Panther that I’d been nominated for an award at the National Game awards 2016 and needed to contact them. I was shocked but even more so when they asked me if I could attend an awards ceremony at Stamford Bridge in London. Only one answer absolutely, Yes!!
On the 19th May myself and Graham West made the journey representing Skelmersdale United. There was definitely no pie, peas and gravy that day. The third award that was presented was Unsung Hero 2016 and it goes to……Mark Lund.
No tears that day just high fives. I should probably tell you at this point the answer to the question I’ve been repeatedly asked throughout my time doing this. Which team do you support? Well this award was made all the sweeter because I was receiving it at my beloved Chelsea FC.
It’s been an incredible two years and at times felt like being on a roller-coaster. We made the Journey from Burscough Bridge to Stamford Bridge with many stops along the way. We have taken in rain, sun, fog, hail and frost. We’ve seen passion, pride and the people who work tirelessly to keep non-league football going and on track. We have dealt with seizures, pneumonia, depression and anxiety and we couldn’t have done any of it without the overwhelming amount of support we have had from clubs and supporters alike. Thank you. Non-league rocks!
We are currently in the process of arranging to selling on the football shirts we have been donated with all funds raised going to Mecp2 Duplication UK. Unfortunately, Guinness World Records won’t accept the chain as a whole with mixed items. We are hoping to resubmit the scarves on their own but are about 200 short so if anyone has a scarf they would like to donate please get in touch via the means below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Look out for details of how you can buy the shirts on our Facebook page and website.
Mark, Rachel, Cameron & Alfie xxx