He wasn’t an Arsenal fan, but he was at the 1971 FA Cup final. I wasn’t born yet (I didn’t arrive until September of that double winning year), but he saw Charlie George score that winner and lie flat on his back on the Wembley turf to celebrate.
Like so many of his generation, he came to England from Ireland to find work in the late 1950s, and I’m sure my love of football came from him. There was always a ball, always a kick-around in the garden, or on the front lawn of the castle we lived in for a while (honestly, it was a castle).
Back then you could just go to a football match. Rock up on a Saturday, and pay your way into the ground depending on who was at home. He lived and worked in West London, and nominally he was a Fulham fan. He loved Johnny Haynes, but he was a huge admirer of Jimmy Greaves too. He liked players who could do things with both feet, and he went to matches all over the city, just because he could.
Some of my earliest memories are of him playing football. He started life as a forward (like my brother), but by the time I came along and he was togging out for the village team in Bishopthorpe (near York), he’d moved back to centre-half (where I played my whole life). I’d stand on the sidelines with my mam. I don’t remember the games or the performances, just the fact that I was there and so was he.
He was pretty strict when we were young. I think it was because he had very clear ideas about what young men should and shouldn’t do. They should look smart, for example, and definitely not wear jeans. They really shouldn’t watch Grange Hill, because those children were basically juvenile delinquents and didn’t respect figures of authority sufficiently.
He worked a lot though, so it was often drive-by stuff. He spent most his working life in the hospitality industry – bars, restaurants, hotels. Long hours, late nights.
Once, in the back garden, I was winding my brother up, as big brothers do. He reached breaking point and unleashed a wave of expletives that would have made a sailor blush. Dad, probably trying to get a bit of rest upstairs, heard everything, stuck his head out the bedroom window and it was the most trouble any little boy has ever been in before or since. I felt bad, and I bought Tim some Cadbury’s Creme Eggs to say sorry.
In 1996 he was away on a golf trip in Spain and fell ill. Cardiomyopathy. The prognosis was not good. He needed a heart transplant. In the mists of time it feels like it happened quickly, but it didn’t. He spent months and months gravely unwell, in and out of hospital, but in the end they took his actual heart out and put someone else’s in.
It’s basically a miracle, isn’t it?
When you think about it, it’s absolutely crazy, but as I said at his eulogy, it changed his life and it saved his life. He became a fierce advocate for organ donation. He helped found the Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association, and he went onto to chair the European Heart and Lung Transplant Federation. He wanted to ensure as many people as possible could benefit from the incredible medical advancements, and the work carried out by doctors and transplant teams.
As you might imagine, that kind of thing gives you a new perspective on life. He was certainly mellower post-transplant, but it coincided with us reaching a stage of adult life where your relationship with your parents changes anyway. We did a lot of stuff together. Golf, pints, dinners, holidays, even the Arsenal.
I don’t know if the trip we took to London was specifically to see a game, or if it coincided with something else, but he came with me to the Emirates to see us play in the Champions League. We played PSV and a late goal from on-loan Chelsea defender Alex saw us crash out. Not exactly a stellar night on the pitch, but it was still a good one off it. We had post-game pints in The Tollington, he met many of the Arseblog crew, and he often talked about how much he enjoyed it.
He loved Arseblog and what it became. He’d read most days. He’d say ‘Some of those chaps on the Arses are a bit fruity, aren’t they?!’. He even listened to a podcast, impressed and somewhat astonished with how often, and with such variation, Ian Wright said my name.
He hadn’t been well for a couple of weeks. I took him to the doctors on February 1st. She told me she was worried about his kidneys. Years of anti-rejection and immuno-suppressant drugs take their toll. Blood test results came back that afternoon. He needed to be in hospital.
I remember him waving to us from the ambulance before it pulled away, his big overcoat pulled tightly around him on a cold evening. Over the next couple of weeks he was treated for the infection, he was getting there, but slowly.
On Monday February 15th I got a phone call from a doctor. He’d been unwell, so they ran more tests. One of them was for Covid-19. It came back positive. We spent a year doing everything we could to keep him safe during the pandemic, and somehow he picked it up in the Coronary Care Unit of a hospital.
Yet over the next week, he didn’t really develop any of the major symptoms. On Monday February 22nd he called from his bed, we spoke about him coming home. He couldn’t wait to get back to his chair, in front of the fire, to watch golf and CNN. We wondered how strong he’d be, what care he might need. How we might have to adapt the house. Downstairs bedroom, stairlift, that kind of thing.
Then … day 10. Covid hit.
Did you ever get winded? It’s scary, isn’t it? Those few seconds where you can’t catch your breath. Imagine that all the time. He needed oxygen, then more oxygen, then all the oxygen it’s possible to give someone.
We were lucky in that we were allowed in to see him. We got to talk to him. That will always be a comfort, but seeing your dad on his own in a six bed ward, surrounded by and attached to machines, struggling to breathe is brutal. You want to help somehow, but you can’t.
We were clad in so much PPE, gown, masks, goggles, gloves, that he thought we were doctors at first. Maybe that’s why he told ‘them’ he didn’t want to die in hospital.
He died in hospital … in the early hours of March 2nd.
He’d been through so much. The heart transplant, he beat a lung cancer situation, he had an ongoing prostate cancer situation, but he couldn’t beat this. He was 84 and he’d lived a good life, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see someone you love die like that.
I’m not going to preach to anyone, but I can only urge you to be cautious. I know we’re all fed up with restrictions and life being the way it is. I know there is light at the end of the tunnel as vaccines are being rolled out, but this virus is still out there and it’s still dangerous. The most vulnerable among us are still loved and cherished family members and friends. Please don’t lose sight of that amid frustration, we all have a responsibility to each other. Someone’s age or their underlying condition doesn’t make them expendable.
Be careful. Look after each other. Each one of those statistics released daily is a real person, with many more left behind. Wash your hands. Wear a mask – at worst it’s a mild inconvenience, at best it saves lives, maybe even your own. Get the vaccine when you can.
My daughter, who I haven’t seen in person for over a year now, couldn’t get home for her grandad’s funeral. The funeral at which only ten people were allowed. That’s not how we do things in Ireland. There was no wake, no telling of stories about the one just gone. The laughs you have at events like that seem incongruous to the situation, but they’re a big part of how get through it.
Like so many other families over this last 12 months, we were apart at a time when we needed to be together. Just a couple of weeks previously my big cousin Adrian, a Gooner and only a few years older than I am, was taken by Covid too. He wasn’t elderly, he wasn’t high risk. I had to ring my dad in hospital and tell him, and while the staff in there were so lovely, he had nobody to share that grief with in person.
The support mechanisms we have in place to cope with things like this aren’t there any more. There are very obvious impacts of Covid on our lives, but there are malingering ones which I don’t think we’ll come to understand for some time yet.
Whatever nurses are paid, they deserve twice that, and more. They are amazing. They don’t need to be clapped, they need to be paid properly. You might not need them now, so perhaps they don’t register, but there will come a time when you will, and they will be amazing for you and your family too.
They shouldn’t have to fight for the compensation they deserve. We should be fighting for them. We should be angry on their behalf. Fight for healthcare.
Pay them properly.
My dad was an amazing man. Really funny, kind, generous, a good person who was the linchpin of our family, and we’re going to miss him terribly. He was well cool too, I mean, look at that 1960s shades/rollneck action he had going on.
I’m experiencing a lot of emotions right now, and it’s going to take some time to process, as they say. Today though, I just want to remember him in a positive way. A man who had a huge influence on who am I, someone who – when I think of him – makes me smile.
It’s absolutely shit he’s not going to be around anymore, and the circumstances of his passing were deeply unpleasant. It’s been a really rough few weeks, to be honest. However, he gave me the strength to get through this, and on this Arsenal blog I’m gonna take the owner’s privilege and set myself up with a tap-in to finish.
Love you Dad, and as a wise man once said, you were f*ckin’ excellent.