The Jack Marshall story
There are a lot of things about modern-day football that make me uneasy – ticket prices, player wages, hooliganism and Manchester City’s owners to name but a few.
Rarely a month – if not a week, day or hour – goes by without hearing of something that makes me feel less and less emotionally involved with the game.
However, there is also another side to football. A side that has been around probably since the game was first invented. A side that goes a long way towards redressing the balance in football’s favour.
Here is a story about that more acceptable facet of the game that I felt compelled to share with you. A story about a boy called Jack Marshall.
Six-year-old Jack has terminal cancer. Despite his best efforts to fight the disease over the past two years, it has spread and the brain tumour is now incurable.
Despite their heartache, his parents – and I can’t even begin to imagine the hell they are going through – have launched a campaign to raise money to buy scanning equipment for early diagnosis so other children may have a better chance of surviving.
It is this campaign, combined with the Jack’s plight, that has brought out a side of football that warms the heart and proves there is still a lot of good to be found in the game.
Jack is, to put it mildly, an absolutely fanatical Manchester United supporter. He simply adores everything about the team. And that has prompted a magnificent response from the club, who invited the boy to spend the day with them at their Carrington training base despite the fact that he was bedridden.
The image of Jack laid in his bed asking Wayne Rooney to come closer so he could give him a kiss for “being the best player in the world” is one that makes me tear up every time I think about it. Even now.
The visit was organised by Rio Ferdinand, a player who never shies away from getting stuck in to good causes. And full credit to Rooney, who you could tell was involved because he genuinely wanted to be.
Even before that visit, Sir Alex Ferguson had already arranged for a box of United memorabilia to be waiting for Jack when he returned home from one of his major operations. And it was by using a football signed by United that the lad defied doctors and learnt to walk all over again.
But, and this is where the story really warms the heart, it isn’t just Manchester United, their players and Sir Alex who have rallied round.
It is the whole of English football.
Wolves fans, for example, have carried a huge banner with Jack’s name on it to games so he could see it on television as he watched from his bed. A simple but significant gesture and a reminder that people are thinking about him.
Another fan went to every match last season shirtless, no matter what the weather, to raise money for the Jack Marshall Fund, while Norwich City supporters started a fantasy football league to help generate cash.
The list goes on. There is hardly a football club in the country that has not done something or other to either make Jack’s life more comfortable or raise awareness of a disease that afflicts one in every 2,500 children.
But even more touching is the response of one player in particular: Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere. Although many, myself included, would expect a young millionaire like Wilshere to have ‘better’ things to do with his life, he has befriended Jack Marshall in a way that is extremely touching.
We are not talking about something done for publicity purposes here, but a genuine friendship that has grown and blossomed between the two Jacks – one with a whole glittering life ahead of him and the other with possibly weeks or days to live.
Big Jack takes little Jack out, invites him and his family around to his house, spends his free time at little Jack’s house playing Playstation and watching games and even helps out packing up the fund-raising wristbands which are now being worn by players.
And let’s not forget that Big Jack plays for Arsenal, not Manchester United. I’m not saying that should make a difference, of course, but it makes the friendship that less likely to have developed.
Rarely a day goes by without Jack Wilshere tweeting about his young friend, which I am sure has contributed in no small way to gaining little Jack more than 60,000 followers on the micro blogging site.
I read an article somewhere describing how football had always been Jack Marshall’s life. The first time he learnt to walk, he did so by kicking a football round the house. The second time too.
Now, in the latter stages of a young life that is being so cruelly cut short, football is trying to give a little something back to the boy.
As a game, football has its faults. Oh so many of them. But there is also something about it and the people that follow it that can inspire and give hope.
It’s too late for little Jack now. All that can be done is make him happier and more comfortable during the time he has left.
But if this groundswell of sympathy and support from the football world can save just one child like Jack in the future, then it will prove there is a power to football that goes far beyond what happens on the pitch.
If you want to follow little Jack on Twitter he is @Jack_Marshall_ or alternatively check out www.jacksfund.co.uk.