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Football is important…..

We often recite those famous words from William (‘Bill’) Shankly OBE 1913-1981 “Football’s not a matter of life or death. It’s much more important than that.” Well I thought that quote might lead in to a particularly heart-moving story from this weekend’s fixtures in junior football in Stockport.

From my perspective I posted last week on Facebook: “Feel genuinely ‘numb’ when have learned that a girl, with lovely boys, passed away today. Cannot claim to have been a close Friend, she was a former neighbour – but lovely, genuine person, who I always chatted with and smiled to. Life can be so cruel taking away a young mother when her whole life should have been ahead of her 😦 RIP x”.

This serves in to a much more important reflection, that which recounts, the braveness and heroics of the deceased, Dawn Shepherd’s Son, Cameron.  The article kindly repeated courtesy of Author, Gary Howard.

“What a gorgeous story about the very brave Cameron from his football game on Saturday..

Lisa Shepherd (Dawn’s Sister) – My Gary writes a match report after every football match and I thought you might like to read this about how wonderfully brave Cameron was today. X

“Dad, should I ask Cameron if he’d like to be captain today?”. And so the tone for the day was set, as I wiped the first of many a tear away from my eye and told Corey that, yes, that would be a lovely gesture.

After the devastating news filtered through on Thursday that Cameron’s much loved mum, Dawn, had sadly lost her brave battle with Cancer and passed away at such a stupidly young age, today was a day that I didn’t think would ever happen. Upon hearing the news, we obviously made arrangements to postpone the game. Our opponents, Cheadle and Gatley Hurricanes, couldn’t have been more accommodating and were fully prepared to cancel at a minute’s notice. If they ever get to read this, thank you.

Cameron, however, had other ideas. He got in touch late on Thursday evening via his Grandad, Brian, to say that he wanted the game to go ahead. Quite how Cam and Brian found the courage to even think about football on such a tragic day is beyond my comprehension. What’s more, however, Cam said that he wanted to play in the game in order to ‘make his mum proud’. She always was, Cam. She always was.

And so, with Cam’s wishes, the league cup game went ahead. To say it was an emotional roller-coaster would be somewhat of an understatement!

We could talk about lots of things. A last minute chance from James that went begging with the game finely (I mean frantically) poised at 2-2. Brandon’s last second winner to give us a 3-2 victory. Dan’s hop, skip and jump celebration that saw him destroy the ref’s brand new linesman’s flag. Harry running the length of the field from his goal to join in the match-winning celebration. Or Ollie Rab obtaining the dubious recognition of being our first ever player to get sent off. We could talk about all of this. But it wouldn’t mean a thing.

For today was about one brave little boy, his brave Grandad for coming along as always to support, and his brave, brave mum, who will sadly no longer see what an amazing human being her son will grow up to be.

As is so often the case in these horrendous circumstances, something happens that you just couldn’t script. And so it was, just 3 minutes into the game that Cameron himself scored to give us an early lead. As he celebrated by pointing his hands to the sky before being mobbed by his team-mates, the tissues came out on the sidelines for the first of many, many times. I’ve never seen so many grown men with ‘something in their eye’ as the whole crowd seemed to pause for a moment to grasp the emotion of what had just happened.

The next 5 minutes were a bit of a blur for everyone I suspect, players and supporters alike. So it wasn’t really surprising that Cheadle & Gatley managed to equalise after 8 minutes. To be fair, they fully deserved to be level. They matched us in nearly every area of the park, with their coach commenting how it was without doubt the best he’d ever seen his team play. Some day for them to choose that performance eh?!

2-1 down at half-time wasn’t what we were hoping for. A few strategic changes here and there, with Matty coming on to rekindle his lost love affair with defence, thankfully provided the catalyst for an improved performance in the 2nd half.

I could tell you who got our equaliser, but Hollywood scriptwriters would suggest I’m being far-fetched! But it was indeed the man of the day, Cam, who scored with just 5 minutes remaining. 4 minutes and 30 seconds later, he also played a ball through to Brandon, who found himself running through on goal with just the keeper to beat.

Time seemed to come to a stop at this point. I’ve played it back in my mind for the last few hours and, what must’ve been a 5 second process in real-life, has somehow become played out in slow-motion to take an age. I’m convinced that nobody at that ground today could have remained so composed in such circumstances as Brandon did to coolly slot home the winner.

Myself, Dan and Ian celebrated like we’ve never celebrated before. The parents celebrated like they’d never celebrated before. The lads, our boys, celebrated like they’d never celebrated before. And we cried. Like we’ve all never cried at a football match before. On the toughest day of our short history, we’d done it!

In the squad game of 9v9, we again showed what a force we could become next season. Goals from Ollie, Brandon, Harry and Luca saw us take a 4-1 victory, which thankfully wasn’t spoilt by our very own Joey Barton being sent for an early wash with the family flannel (I miss those days!). It was a great squad performance driven by Cameron playing in defence. If you didn’t fill up when he was substituted to get a standing ovation with minutes to go, unplug yourself; you’re not human.

Man of the Match for the cup game was this week voted for by the players. Such is the bond amongst this fantastic set of lads, their unanimous decision was for Cameron who deserved it for so much more than simply sentiment. In an unprecedented move, Cameron also won the award for the squad game. Again, it was fully deserved. On a day when he wanted to make his mum proud, he couldn’t have done a better job.

Thanks as always for your support. You are the extra ‘man’ that we needed today. We’ll have tougher games, but we won’t have many tougher days. And thanks on behalf of Cam for making it ‘normal’.

For Dawn. Your son couldn’t have made you prouder. Rest in peace. We miss you.”

A fundraising page has been set up to honour the life of Dawn Shepherd, who passed away on the 3rd of November 2016 after a courageous battle with cancer. Dawn has two gorgeous boys called Cameron age 9 and Lewis age 11 and through this page and other fundraising we want to help these brave boys as much as possible for their future.  Please do follow this link and donate and/or publicize – it all really can help Cameron and Lewis.  Thank you for listening.

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