By Emma Johns
As part of the Northamptonshire enclave I am sometimes lucky (?) enough to be part of Tony and Drew’s recent foray into non-league territory and occasionally get to go to the Emirates when Tony is indisposed. However, I must to confess to being something of a football tart.
My heart belongs to Guernsey FC where I was born and dragged up but wherever I have lived on the mainland I have supported my local side, so take a bow Exeter City, Preston NE and then (whisper it) a QPR season ticket holder for two years when I lived in London and couldn’t afford to go and see (shhh says it even more quietly) Chelsea.. Ok so confession over and suffice to say I love football, football fans and don’t need have to have the offside rules explained to me.
I wasn’t at the Liverpool game but it meant much more even (!) than the potential addition of silver polish to Mr Wenger’s shopping list because within the match-day programme was an advert ‘for’ the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Associations’ Football vs MND campaign. This is a campaign that uses the power of football to spread awareness of a relatively rare but goddam awful terminal disease. I work for the MND Association so I guess I would say that, but don’t take my word for it.
Mark Maddox is the face and inspiration for our season long campaign. He is a former professional footballer who played over 300 times for Altrincham FC and was involved in with a few other clubs too as player or coach (read his football CV here).
Mark was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2010 and since then he has fundraised for the Association any way he can (he is still planning to complete his second London Marathon this April); a massive part of our role is to fund global research and to raise awareness in any way we can.
I met Mark when he was the guest speaker at our staff conference last year. He has all the banter you might expect from someone who has spent most of their life in lower league dressing rooms. His way of connecting with the man in the street, and bursting a few myths along the way, (for instance, MND is NOT a disease of old people), was too good an opportunity to miss for someone working in the comms team here at the MND Association. Fundamentally he is quite a laid back kind of guy so was going to be able to put up with me bossing him through media opportunities that has included national and regional TV and radio interviews.
Football v MND is a simple concept for a relatively small charity… we ask clubs to run it for free in their match day programmes. To be honest we never really thought we would get so many top tier teams signing up but then football has a habit of surprising people and Mark was able to tell his own story through a video we recorded before the start of the season. So when we emailed all the Premier League clubs the response was pretty impressive including a lovely reply from the Arsenal programme team saying they might run it in the home tie against Bayern on Wednesday.
But as it turned out fate played a perfect hand (with Mark being a lifelong ‘Red’) and I got a text saying Mark’s in the programme about three minutes before kick-off, knowing that he was also at the game with his friend Ian and son.
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So thank you to everyone at Arsenal who made it possible and Mark was magnanimous in defeat. He said:
“Obviously it was a great day if you were a Gooner but it was a long way back to Liverpool for us and the less said about Howard Webb the better!!!
“This season our Football v MND campaign has seen eight PL clubs support us so far, which is fantastic awareness for MND, it’s also seen me go into places and meet people I never imagined possible. I went to Old Trafford last month to be interviewed on MUFC TV and as you can imagine it was a strange feeling sat in enemy territory!! (The things I have to do for the MND Association! )
As I was sat in the away end yesterday I noticed a banner which said ‘Anfield 89’ and it brought back terrible memories for me standing on the Kop that Friday night aged 16 watching my beloved reds get beaten for the title in the most dramatic fashion in injury time by a Michael Thomas winner.
Another thing sticks in my mind from that night and it’s the memory of Tony Adams leading several Arsenal players out before the game with flowers and laying them around the ground, showing their respect to the 96 Liverpool fans who had tragically died at Hillsborough a few weeks earlier. That memory stayed with me and shows that football is a game that can bring people together at a time when it’s most needed and as much as I love Bill Shankly’s famous quote regarding life and death when you’re living with a terminal illness those words don’t ring true anymore.
Mark and football pal Ian Porter with Alan Smith at Stoke last month. ‘He was a real gent and a dead nice fella but we did tell him in no uncertain terms what that night 1989 did to us!
The football community has been fantastic towards the campaign and it gives me strength and hope. I’m watching MND slowly eat its way through my body and also watching the affect it has on the people who are precious to me. I have a tattoo on my ribs in Italian which says ‘Life, Love & Laughter are the gifts I give to my children.’ Children should have fun memories not ones of their dad deteriorating from a terminal disease. So we need to raise more awareness for MND so we can raise more funds for research and hopefully one day find a cure and future generations won’t have to live with this cruel disease.
“Good luck in the FA cup (especially against Everton) and for the rest of the season and again thank you for helping in the fight against motor neurone disease.
PS If, like Drew and Tony, you have a soft spot or connections with clubs other than the mighty Arsenal .. (by far the greatest team, obviously .. ) but still large enough to have a match day programme then do encourage them to take part in our campaign. Just email email@example.com if you want a copy of the ad or some help in contacting the club. If you want to read more about what Mark is doing you can follow him on Twitter
@lastofadying1 or read his blog
Our goal is to get the ad in 300 programmes by the end of the season and we are closing in on 140 now so need your help!
Thanks for reading,