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My dad's football fandom outlasted his terminal illness

BY Simon Lloyd

8th Aug 2023 Sport

My dad's football fandom outlasted his terminal illness
After a lifetime watching football with his father, a cancer diagnosis means Simon Lloyd will now have to go alone. In his book, he recalls his dad's last match

The last game

Out of the lift, we made directly for the seats, not bothering to stop for a programme. This wasn’t a day worth remembering.
With the temperature warm, the rest of the regulars came up from the concourse earlier than they would have done normally and stood chatting by their seats. Owed partly to the nothingness of the game, the atmosphere was pleasant, devoid of any final-day tension.
Before kick-off, Michael Carrick, appearing for a final time as a Manchester United player, was given an ovation and a guard of honour as he came out of the tunnel with his kids. The match began, understandably lacking in tempo.

The final goal 

Credit: Ardfern, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Marcus Rashford scored the last goal Simon's dad ever witnessed on May 13, 2018
The only goal came just after half an hour. I don’t remember it, but footage reveals it began with Carrick floating a pass over the top of the Watford defence for Juan Mata, who had timed his run immaculately. His control instant, he squared a pass for Marcus Rashford, who applied the finish.
That, I think, was the last goal Dad ever saw, but I can’t be certain he did see it. Our seats were higher than the roof of the South Stand opposite us.
"That, I think, was the last goal Dad ever saw"
That, coupled with the large sloping roof of our stand, created a huge rectangular window which looked out southwards, first over Stretford and the cricket ground and then, in the distance, out across part of the Cheshire Plain.
On clear days you could easily pick out planes taking off and coming in to land at the airport.
Several times I’d glanced at Dad; on each occasion his eyes had been gazing out of the stadium, mind somewhere else.

Remembering his way back

Half-time came and went. I spent it following him in and out of the toilets, making sure he remembered his way back, which he did without intervention.
The second half passed without goals or anything I can recall that was even vaguely exciting. Dad sat back, arms folded, scarf still hanging over his shoulders, waiting for the full-time whistle.
"The team began a lap of appreciation, with pockets of the more vocal supporters serenading them with songs"
As is routinely the way after the last full time of the season, there wasn’t the usual mass scramble for the exits as soon as the game finished.
Instead, the majority simply stood and waited for a few words from the manager and to bid farewell to those players who may be moving on.
The team began a lap of appreciation, with pockets of the more vocal supporters serenading them with songs about the imminent visit to Wembley.

Farewell, matchday friends 

Credit: Steve Collis, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr. At the end of a long life of football fandom, Simon and his dad sat and surveyed Old Trafford one last time
As soon as the last of the players had passed us on the pitch below, the handshakes and goodbyes began all around us, the air quickly filling with the usual “see you in August” and “have a great summer”.
Dad had tried to hide his tears at this point. But by the time Frank and Nige and Sue and Dave and all the other matchday friends he’d made over the years—even those whose faces we recognised but whose names we never learned—had started to say their goodbyes, he could no longer disguise it.
The tears streamed from him like I’d never seen before—more than after the Martial goal at Wembley; much more than during the minute’s silence before Huddersfield.
"The tears streamed from him like I’d never seen before—more than after the Martial goal at Wembley"
But it was the noise that accompanied them which was by far the worst part. It was incomparable to anything I’d ever heard from him: a long, drawn-out wail, punctuated by sharp, deep intakes of breath; the cry of a child, yet coming from a man in his seventies.
Awkwardly, I put an arm around his shoulders in an attempt to comfort him. He cupped his hands over his face and continued to sob.
Realising this would not pass quickly, I pulled down his chair for him so we could sit in our seats for a final time. We stayed there for some time, watching the crowds drain out of the stadium. 

The end 

Eventually, he intimated he was ready, and carefully pulled himself to his feet. He was trembling when he stood up and reached for my hand as we headed towards the top of the steps down towards the exit.
This was it: the end. 25 years after he’d led me into Old Trafford by the hand for my first game, here I was, leading him by his as he departed for a final time.
At the top of the steps, he grasped the handrail and began to descend, giving no final glance back at the pitch as he went.
United With Dad book cover
United With Dad: Fatherhood, Football Fandom and Memories of Manchester United by Simon Lloyd is published by Pitch Press (£18.99)
Banner credit: Hadi, CC BY-NC 2.0, via Flickr
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