Football saved my ,s life dad
And emotional story of how BEN JONES tells the affectionate a love for Sutton United helped tranform his father’s health
Iknow what you’re thinking from the title, that you are about to read a biopic real life drama, the likes of which Universal Pictures would be interested in, an amazing event that occurred at a lowly English club in the football pyramid that saved a human life.
Maybe this drama can unravel as a man stumbling home after a night out. He falls over a motorway bridge and is miraculously saved by his Sutton United football shirt as it is caught up in a hook sticking out from under the bridge. Or it could be that Sutton’s manager, Paul Doswell, has healing hands. But, no, these two events didn’t happen.
What did happen was an event far greater. It showed human spirit, friendship and the love of a non-league club and all that went with it. And it saved a man’s life...my dad, Ian.
So let us begin. On a Saturday three years ago during the international break I was relieved that I wouldn’t be sitting watching my beloved Crystal Palace for 90 minutes, as the November cold was here with a vengeance. To avoid lazing around the house and getting caught by the missus where she would inevitably write the Magna Cata of jobs for me to do around the house, I grabbed the keys and went out for a haircut, breakfast and a quick accumulator bet. It was then off to my old man’s to watch the scores come in. This visit happened every other week when Palace were either away or had a Sunday or midweek game.
Dad was two months retired from a headship at a lovely little primary school in Kingston-onThames where he had the role for 28 years. Do not imagine your typical head teacher as my dad was reminiscent of Colin Firth’s character in Fever Pitch. He was so passionate about sport that sometimes I would get the feeling that a government school inspection would run a distant second to organising Sports Day. it had become evident leading to his retirement that me and dad had drifted apart a bit, not due to an argument, my job just got in the way. I felt guilty for this as he had so much time on his hands and we always have been the best of mates. From music to sport we shared the same passions and made these Saturdays our time for catch up.
Ben (mobile): Ten minutes away old timer, I have no clue on this accumulator today, ain’t bet on League 2 for as old as you are.
Dad (mobile): Hi mate was gonna call just then, weird. Fancy a curry after results? Just got a little something to discuss with you, nothing to get worried about!
Worried? I was now terrified for two reasons. One being he was going to call. In two years he had rung only once to say he had locked himself out of the house at a pivotal time during watching the Ryder Cup and wanted help smashing the window. Secondly, he said not to worry!
“It’s cancer mate, but the doctors are very positive and they will operate next week. Let’s hope we get some luck with Rock of Gibraltar running in the 3:30”
That was my Dad in a nutshell! Something’s wrong but let’s looks at something positive to hide the fact that everybody in the room is scared. And so began the fight.
Now the fight against cancer wasn’t the problem it was the after effects that took the toll. No longer was he going to be able to play sport every day and the fact that he’d just retired meant he would spend days not doing anything until it all came to a head one Tuesday night.
My Grandad used to box and play football with Bill Shankly and represented the Royal Air Force with him during the Second World War. He was a hardened Londoner who had seen it all. I remember he was in need of a wheel chair in his last years so he could go out but offers of this were always received with a “Piss off”.
This stubborn nature, always giving off the impression that nothing was wrong was instilled in my Dad at a young age, but that Tuesday his tone was different. “You okay Dad.” “Hacked off with everything if truth be hold.”
“Let’s get some fresh air; you’ve been stuck in here all day”
We walked along Gander Green Lane, where he had moved the previous year. Although he loved the house, he wasn’t too keen on the area. Don’t get me wrong, there weren’t groups of youths holding daily meetings on the corners of every street, or yobs on motor bikes or muggers down the backstreets. But in Gander Green Lane he felt detached from everything.
You see Dad could no longer drive as an eye condition had formed after the surgery. I joked with him saying I would rest easy knowing he was off the road but, all jokes aside, after the surgery this had hit him hard. Regular visits to the hospital were met with long waits at the bus station. It was becoming the last straw...as he told me on that walk around the block.