Sunderland v Wigan ‘Who are You?’: (1) when life means more

Many Salut! Sunderland readers will know that Bernard Ramsdale is not only a staunch fan of Wigan Athletic and co-creator of This Northern Soul, an amalgamation of four Latics fan sites. He is also a great friend of this site. Fewer will know of his family tragedy – the devastating injuries suffered by his son Anthony in a road accident in 2007 – and the monumental efforts Bernard and many others make to allow him some enjoyment of life. There were some footballing questions, too, but they didn’t really fit in here so visit a separate posting at this link for Bernard’s thoughts on the match, Wigan’s present predicament and whether Bruce or Martinez have been better for the club. The main slice of this week’s “Who are You?” is given over to the warm, dignified and beautifully written article that follows …

So, how , in an article meant to be all about the vital place of football in our lives, make it seem less important than it really is? The simple answer to that question is that you can’t.

Colin Randall approached me a few weeks ago with this idea. We talked for a while and while I insisted that this particular story will only be told because of my respect for the Salut! Sunderland authors and the kind of supporters they represent, I decided to reveal how football in the grand scheme of things is only a game, but it is indeed still a major player in all our lives. Well, it is in mine anyway.

He alluded to the fact that Wigan Athletic and their wonderful supporters have been very supportive of me and my family through a five year period when you would have thought that football was the last thing on my mind.

Well on April 15 2007 it certainly was. Wigan Athletic had played a wonderful 3-3 draw against Tottenham Hotspur at home in the afternoon. The football on show from both sides was truly breathtaking and given the diversity of the two clubs in question, this was definitely a home point won for Latics, rather than two lost.

The evening saw me and my wife, Sheila, out celebrating to an Irish band, as you do, but within a few hours our lives were to change for ever.

One of Anthony’s friends rang Sheila in the middle of the group blasting out the Saw Doctors’ classic Joyce Country Ceili Band at roughly 10.30pm. This particular song is one of the most uplifting and enjoyable songs you will ever hear, but Sheila’s face turned from happiness, to concern, to worry, to abject misery as the phone call unfolded. The world around us was rocking, but hers was falling down in shattered little pieces all around her.

Anthony had been involved in a road traffic collision and to cut a long story short he was left permanently brain damaged. Following treatment at the Walton Neurological Centre and, later, two local hospitals, it was decided by the medical professionals that he would have no quality of life and we were advised to put him in a care home for the rest of his life. He was 25 by this time; the accident had happened when he was 24. When involved in a vehicle collision it can be pretty traumatising for people and can even cause injuries to some, so its always best to make sure your vehicle is insured. The same goes for if you drive a company car. Of course all the insurance and all the important aspects should be sorted out by your workplace, but just double check just to make sure. If you’ve ever been in a vehicle accident, but were not sure what to do following this, it may be best to check out something similar to Odessa company vehicle accident lawyer (if you live in this area of Texas), in the hopes of claiming compensation you deserve and to find out what the best steps are moving forward, as this must be difficult for anyone to deal with on their own.

This will relieve at least some stress off of the situation, so you don’t have to worry about paying costs for any damages made to the vehicle. There are several companies that can help you find the right cover for you automobile, but if its van cover you’re after Money Expert offer excellent policies.

Put simply we were not going to do this. We wanted him to be given a better chance of obtaining some quality of life. Had we done as we were “advised”, Anthony would now be permanently bed bound, just waiting to die.

In fact, he probably would be dead, as I have seen first hand that this is normally the case when this option is taken by the family of a person who is only “minimally conscious” and unable to do anything for themselves. Often they are taken by a condition that gradually closes down all the body’s vital organs.

We took the decision in April 2008 to send Anthony to a Brain Rehabilitation Unit in North Wales where he would receive the best care currently available in the United Kingdom. As I write this, that is still the case.

We are not naïve, there will be no miracle, our son will probably never walk and talk again, but he is aware of his situation, although often “disengaged”. Various fund raising events held for Anthony have resulted in the purchase of specialist equipment and his own personal transport. Even now people are still offering donations to a specially set up appeal fund for him for the upkeep of his vehicle.

We needed this help because although Anthony is eligible for a benefit called DLA, he would actually receive it only if he were living at home or outside of a “care” environment. Considering the fact that he will now always need nursing supervision, and we would rather be good parents than bad carers, the local community and Wigan Athletic FC rallied around to help.

The logistics of this whole situation resulted in our need to purchase a caravan and leave it in Wales so that we could spend time with him. Up until then trips to Wales from Wigan, and then back, especially following visits that could sometimes be traumatic, could have led to a serious accident for either Sheila or myself, or more than likely both of us. This solution has enabled us to visit and have a little quality time for ourselves and our daughter while in Wales.

Even to this day people ask why Anthony is in Wales and the simple answer really is that we had to do what was best for him and worry about our problems later. It is working well. Many people make the mistake of placing disabled or traumatised relatives nearer to themselves, so that visiting them or looking after them is a little easier and this is quite natural. But often the care needed is not sufficient and if I am ever advised of what is best I would always tell people to place the victim in the best possible place for help first, and worry about yourself later.

During our conversation Colin must have been thinking football doesn’t really matter after all that, does it? If that was the case he is wrong, but only wrong because he isn’t aware of just what football does mean to myself and Anthony.

I brought up Anthony and his brother Michael to support their local team. Their local team is Wigan Athletic and while they were growing up they were often the only boys in their school who proudly wore a Wigan Athletic shirt among hundreds of school friends, all fellow Wiganers, who sported the shirts of the “big four” North West football teams instead.

Events since then have seen the club progress at a rate that I don’t think any other club has ever done, but I digress.

Anthony is often aware of his surroundings. His medical condition makes the long trip to watch Wigan Athletic almost impossible. What do I do about this situation? I decide that we will both go back to basics, by that I mean that through hell or high water, he and I will support our “local” team again. This time it is Colwyn Bay FC.

Both of us still go to their games when practical, ie when his condition on any given day allows it. We travel in his own “Wigan Wagon”, the vehicle that we would not have but for many, many local and Welsh people who have raised the funds to provide for him.

Wigan Athletic even sent a team to play Colwyn Bay during this pre season. Anthony was not really fit enough to attend this game, but we took the risk and in the event he was alert for roughly half of the game. I was disappointed that Wigan Athletic were in town and he wasn’t fit enough to take in the occasion fully. But friends around us confirmed that in their opinion he was 100 per cent better than the last time they had seen him in Wigan two or three years previously.

Things like that mean a lot to Sheila and myself, and in some small way justify our decision to remain in Wales for the time being. Remind me again what the alternative would have been on that day had we stayed in Wigan four years previously?

That’s right, he would have been bedbound staring at four walls instead of taking in a game of football between his two “local” teams, who incidentally were meeting for the first ever time in both clubs’ histories. Football has given my son a purpose and the game is a big part of his life. I support both clubs, but of course my first and true love is Wigan Athletic and I regularly make 250-mile round trips for home games, but if a home fixture clashes with a Colwyn Bay fixture, and Anthony is able to attend the Bay game, I will stay in Wales.

So even after all that my family has been through football is crucial. Indeed, football is my religion. I believe far more in a 9-1 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur (of all teams, given after what our family has suffered following that game against them in April 2007) than the workings of any “god”. Football and the supporters of this great game have given my family more hope, love, soul and inspiration than the workings of any “god”. Football is real. More real than the workings of any “god”.

Bill Shankly was wrong you know, when he said “Football is not a matter of life and death, it is much more important than that”. If it was possible for me to meet the great man now I would tell him how wrong he really was and that he needed to utter just two of those words: “Football matters.”

The football questions and answers will appear here tomorrow – ps can now be seen by clicking anywhere in this sentence

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7 thoughts on “Sunderland v Wigan ‘Who are You?’: (1) when life means more”

  1. Well done Bernard – both for doing what you’ve done with Anthony, and for having the courage to write about it, which can’t have been easy. It’s truly inspiring stuff, and it shows that football (even if, despite Murdoch’s wishes, it’s not one of the “big” teams involved) can provide and inspire its followers to support one another.

  2. Thanks for the kind words Tom. You are correct, a club is for life and support of a club does connect you to some wonderful people. I am privileged enough to support a club that is small in numbers but absolutely massive in heart.

    Also there is nothing really special about our family, we just get on with things as best we can, as any other family would in the circumstances. The special people are the one’s who came to our aid.

    You’re also correct with your opinion of plastic glory hunters, and I doubt any other town has as many of those as Wigan does. Wigan is a football town, but over half the ‘supporters’ in town ‘support’ clubs whose grounds they have never even been to! If they were real fans then the DW Stadium would be filled most weeks and our club would not suffer so much ridicule on a national scale.

    Ironically the people who laugh most are the ones causing the problem via their glory hunting in the first place. Still, it is their loss. Myself and around 16,000 others have witnessed something, the likes of which may never happen again as this game continues to kill itself with greed.

  3. What a brilliant family. Whilst it shows that football is a sideshow to reality, it also highlights how many fantastic human beings follow the game. One of the main things that has kept me going following SAFC through decades of mainly disappointment is the banter you have and the friendships you make that can last a lifetime. Good luck in this case to a family of proper football fans who put the plastic glory hunters to absolute shame by having remained so loyal to Wigan Athletic even in extreme adversity, a club who many footballing snobs often try to belittle. Anthony should be proud of himself and of his family, clearly wonderful people.

  4. If you’ll forgive the gallows humour, Jeremy, they might NOT be at the foot of the table after Saturday.
    (And yes, if the site allowed it, I would “dislike” this comment myself!)

  5. That’s the third time the famous Shankly quote has appeared on Salut in not much more than as many weeks. Of course football is important. It plays a huge role in distracting us from the grind of everyday life, which can often be hard, indeed very tragic as Bernard’s moving article demonstrates. Yes, indeed “football matters.” I couldn’t agree more.

    It’s always good to hear from you on this site Bernard, and I’m sorry to see Wigan at the foot of the table.

    Best wishes to your family. The way that we are playing there may well be cause for celebration this coming weekend.

  6. A moving story which puts things into perspective . It’s good that there are clubs like Wigan with their loyal supporters in the Premiership – it’s always one of my favourite venues for away games ,along with the 2 other “smaller” NW clubs , Blackburn & Bolton

  7. Nothing much to say after this. It puts everything into a new perspective. “Football is real. Football matters.”
    Beautifully (and bravely) said, Bernard. Thank you.

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