This is Kevin Doyle. He is a footballer for Wolverhampton Wanderers who on Saturday were relegated to the third tier of English football. Over the last few years myself and Nathan have followed Wolves up and down the country with Pete (Nathan’s godfather) and until his sad passing in 2011 Derrick (Pete’s dad and one of Nathan’s best friends).
Nathan started to come to the football regularly with us the year Wolves won the Championship and secured promotion to the Premier League in the 2008/09 season. He has been to a few matches in the years before but this was the year he got his first season ticket and that first season was magical – an oasis for him at a time when the reality of Jude’s condition was really starting to bite.
The following season, Wolves paid £7 million for Doyle and for Nathan – a footballing hero was born. Wolves spent 3 years in the Premier League and during that time we followed Wolves all over the country – usually watching them lose. I think we saw three away victories in three seasons (Pete only managed 1, away to Queens Park Rangers in the last season before we were relegated – Doyle scored!) Winning would have been nice but the experiences are memories Nathan will keep for the rest of his life. He certainly remembers a lot more of it than I do.
So last season we were relegated but had hopes that we could get back up again this season, and Kevin Doyle didn’t join the exodus of players leaving the club and Nathan’s hero was to remain at the club and he again had his name printed on the back of his replica shirt.
Unfortunately it was a terrible season and last Saturday myself and Nathan travelled the 4 hours for Wolves’ last match away at Brighton where only an unlikely series of events would see Wolves avoid a second successive relegation.
Setting out in the early hours for a lunch time kick off, Nathan explained how he was going to wear his ‘Doyle’ shirt back to front – he is aware that Doyle is likely to depart in the summer and he was desperate to see his last appearance in a Wolves team. We arrived at the shiny new Brighton stadium along with a sell out contingent of 2000 Wolves’ fans and went to see where our seats were – 5 rows from the front right behind the goal. I hate seats like this because your view is restricted by the nets in the goal so I was on a bit of a downer already…although the steak and ale pies were excellent. And it was raining and the roof didn’t quite extend over our heads.
I decided to take shelter a few rows up and Nathan discarded his coat and went to stand right at the front as the players, including Doyle, warmed up. He applauded Doyle every time he came near. I felt a little sad knowing that this was the last time my lad would see his favourite player in a Wolves shirt.
And so the game started and Wolves, needing to win, conceded within the first few minutes and as the afternoon wore on results elsewhere meant no matter what we did we were going down – but Nathan persevered, trying vainly to start Doyle chants in the crowd. Midway through the second half Doyle nearly scored – I could sense Nathan’s disappointment and regardless of the impending relegation I was praying that Doyle could get on the scoresheet…even if it would have been meaningless in the overall scheme of things…it would have softened the blow for Nathan.
Brighton went on to score a second, Wolves didn’t trouble the scoreboard and the full time whistle sent Wolves down. As is customary, the Wolves’ players came over to the travelling supporters to thank them, all of them heading to the other side of the goal away from where we were standing. All of them except one. Kevin Doyle. Doyle came the other way and pointed at Nathan, called over a steward and handed him his shirt to pass up to Nathan. Nathan’s joy was immense, probably more than I have ever seen from him. As I turned away from him to begin climbing over the seats to claim Nathan’s “prize” another father sent his son to go and grab it. In that moment, Nathan’s joy turned to absolute despair. I looked at Nathan, I looked at this other kid (his own face erupting with happiness) and at that moment I had no idea what to do. I had no words. Nothing.
I explained to Nathan that we couldn’t take it back from the other kid (I even quietly offered him £50 – even though I only had £10 in my pocket – and explained what had happened but his response was expected). It was Nathan who pulled me back indicating that he knew it was not his day and he later admitted that he wouldn’t have wanted to take it away from the other kid anyway. I was immensely proud of him.
I had explained to Nathan that perhaps he could write to the club to see if we could get his shirt signed as a consolation. When we got home, I logged onto a Wolves forum I use and let out my frustrations at what happened.
On Sunday, with Jude in respite, the four of us went to Bewdley. It was busy being a bank holiday weekend and we drove around for about 15 minutes trying to find a parking space until an elderly couple walking back to their car signalled that we could have their space so we followed them and waited for them to pull out – thanked them and watched as someone else pulled into the parking space. Twice in two days?
On arriving home I was greeted to a message from those who run the forum I had vented my spleen on. They had been in touch with the club who, in turn, had been in touch with Kevin Doyle. Doyle remembered the incident and personally wants to do something for Nathan and asked for our address. The club have also invited us to the training ground to meet the players in pre-season.
For a 14 year old Nathan it has been a memorable weekend, for good and bad and demonstrates how the little things can be so important.
Back in 2009, Jude began to suffer a series of respiratory arrests in hospital- the worst being 4 minutes or so when the staff took us to a side room and I think prepared us for the worst. Those few minutes are etched on my brain. Jude was in HDU at the time and in the opposite corner was a family with a young boy who also suffered from respiratory arrests. I remember when things had calmed down and they had got Jude breathing again, the mom came over to me and quietly told me “Louis does that all the time, don’t worry about it too much.” It wasn’t much but suddenly we weren’t alone and they were coping….so could we. Over the next few days both Louis and Jude would go off on one, never at the same time mind, and their strength gave us strength – just a little thing she said to me made such a massive difference.
Yesterday I read the Acorns Magazine (Charlie’s Story) and there is a piece in there about that family – just over 6 months after they were in hospital together Louis passed away. Louis’ mom probably doesn’t realise the huge impact she had on us. Her bravery, fortitude and resilience helped us so much in a dark time. Just a little thing but so powerful.
Whether you are an international footballer, an internet forum contributor, a brave mom or my son – it only takes the smallest gesture to inspire others.