There was only one place to be if you were a Latics fan on Friday evening and that was at the ‘Seventh Heaven’ extravaganza in a packed to capacity DW Stadium South Stand Suite that was simply rocking! By the end of the evening the aims of the appeal that I set up for my son had been accomplished, as I explained in a rather brief speech at the end of the night.
I had however prepared a speech beforehand but there was no time for me to read it out in its entireity and by the time I eventually got on the stage in the early hours of Saturday morning a lot of people missed my short message of thanks. So here for everybody who attended is what I prepared specially for the evening. Every word come from the heart…
“Usually when somebody hands me a microphone, I burst into some Karaoke song and either make a reasonable fist of things or make a complete tool of myself, neither of which really worries or bothers me. When it comes to speaking in public though I am quite hopeless, mainly because I am a quiet, rather shy and private person and I really don’t like to be the centre of attention.
“But as I stand here on this stage right now, I am truly humbled by everybody present, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for turning out tonight and helping to hopefully complete the aims of the ‘Anthony Ramsdale Appeal Fund’.
“It’s truly remarkable that past players representing the last four decades of this great club and the current club manager are in attendance, and I also thank them for giving up their time freely just for tonight.
“For those of you who are unaware, my son Anthony was left severely brain damaged in a RTA following the Tottenham Hotspur home game on 14th April 2007. He was in a coma for seven months and then he became what is medically classed as ‘minimally conscious’, and the authorities wanted myself and Sheila to just put him in a care home, at the age of 24, for the rest of his life as it was unlikely, in their professional opinions, that he would improve.
“To cut a long story short, we were not prepared to do this and we fought for him to be accepted into a Leonard Cheshire Acquired Brain Injury Unit where he now receives intensive round the clock neuro physiotherapy and nursing care.
“This level of care that Anthony needs could only be provided in North Wales. And after thinking only of what was best for him, as opposed to worrying about our own future problems like travel and accommodation costs, and emotional strain combined with also keeping the rest of our family protected from further hurt, he is still there and responding well to treatment.
“He is only able to communicate very occasionally via facial expressions and left hand movements, and although he can not walk or talk, he is aware of his surroundings and on alert days he is also aware of the fact that he is catastrophically disabled. But even this is a massive positive given the fact that we were once told that he would never even regain full consciousness.
“This care package has been funded by the Wigan and Leigh Primary Care Trust and Anthony is well looked after with regards to his care needs, but funding stops when it comes to acquiring any specially adapted equipment that Anthony requires.
“The appeal was set up by Sheila and me last October when we were told that our son needed a specialised armchair. This chair was crucial to his neuro physiotherapy sessions and his general well being and would cost almost four thousand pounds.
“Because we are not both on any kind of state benefits and because Anthony does not live at home, despite the fact that it is impossible for him to do so, we were told that we would not be eligible for any help at all with the costs of this or any future equipment that Anthony will need as his rehabilitation progresses, however slow it will be.
“After trawling through hundreds and hundreds of charitable organizations we found out that whilst they all would help young children, none were prepared to help anybody over the age of eighteen and in Anthony’s predicament. There may be people in this room now who know exactly what I mean, and whilst nobody can possibly begrudge charities helping vulnerable little children and their families, it is unfair that once a person reaches adulthood they are on their own. The government certainly does not want to know.
“As I mentioned earlier I am a private kind of person and very protective of my family, but I had no choice but to make our plight public and in doing this I bared my soul and revealed some very personal documentation and photographs in order to – a, make people aware of this situation and – b, to try to get some help for ourselves. This is my son I am talking about here, and I know that every decent parent in this room would do the same if it meant achieving a better quality of life for their child whether or not that child is one week old or fifty years old. “This is when LATICSUNITED decided to take action.
“Well actually LATICSUNITED unofficially came into being when the whole Latics internet community and the Supporters Club came together to ask the club for a stand at the DW Stadium to be named after our old ground almost two years ago. After all, the club had already re-named the East Stand the Boston Stand in honour of Boston United, whose ground was unfit to stage League Football in 1978. This meant that Latics were elected into the finest League in the world instead of United, so it was the least we could do to thank them!
“The club listened to us all and together we achieved that aim when the West Stand was rechristened the Springfield Stand, thanks to the generosity of Mr Whelan agreeing to do it. Since then LATICSUNITED was just ticking over and needed another project to unite the Latics community and little was I to know that my family’s plight would be it.
“It all started with a Northern Soul extravaganza with the DJ’s, three of whom have TNS connections, spinning the rather expensive wax and spreading the talcum powder, free of charge. And with 280 people present, including our chief executive Jonathan Jackson, plus a donation from a local organization called ‘Wigan and Leigh Embrace’, who are dedicated to helping local people, we were able to fund the specialized chair, I remarked sometime during my rather emotional and erratic speech later that the evening that there was a tiny surplus, and we would put this towards the cost of a specially adapted vehicle for Anthony.
“Since our arrival in North Wales Anthony’s progress has enabled us to take him to watch some football matches. Getting him to Latics is, for the time being, impossible, so I rolled the clock back by 24 years and ensured that once again Anthony would support his local football team and this time it was Colwyn Bay FC!
“The club officials looked after us really well when Sheila and myself first went to the ground and enquired if the club could accommodate Anthony and ourselves in April 2009 for an upcoming game against AFC Fylde. They made us feel like royalty when we did manage to get to the game and from that moment on Anthony and I have continued to support them during our weekends in Wales, Latics home fixtures permitting. When the fixtures clash I just make the round trip to the DW Stadium.
“Anthony and myself do seem to be a lucky charm for the Bay because since we started watching them because they have won successive promotions, and are now at the dizzy heights of being in the same league that Latics were in when I first started supporting this great club as young boy in the mid seventies!
“As a point of interest, I e-mailed Ed Jones this time last year to see if Roberto would consider taking a team to play a pre season friendly as a ‘thank you’ from myself and Anthony for Colwyn Bay FC’s kindness too us. It was
too late then, but I could not believe it when the fixture was announced a few months ago, and realized that although Anthony can’t get to see Latics, Latics will instead travel to see him. Once again, I am deeply touched.
“The downside to these trips to support Colwyn Bay was that it was costing us in excess of fifty pounds per game to get him there in specialized transport, this for a ten minute round trip. In fact, taking him anywhere was costing us a small fortune as disabled transport facilities suitable for Anthony in North Wales are almost non existent.
“We were saving some money to get him an adapted vehicle but the size of vehicle and the adaptations needed were ensuring that we could not afford to purchase suitable transport any time soon. This is when LATICSUNITED stepped in again.
“They knew that myself and Sheila were working hard and had held numerous fundraising events including a further Soul Night, a football night at the Jim Kenyon Club in Hindley which is the home of the Hindley Jumiors FC, a St John Fisher School Reunion and various raffles and fundraisers at our local pubs, including one at the Honeysuckle Inn in Poolstock, more about that later. And we even had a punk rock gig in North Wales!
“At the second Northern Soul event the lead singer of the soon to be christened ‘Empty Seats’, hit me with the idea of himself and a few friends actually doing something about becoming a ‘proper’ band and they used the Appeal as an incentive to basically get their arses in gear. It also gave the drummer an excuse to put his daughter’s unwanted Christmas present, a set of drums, to good use. Come on, in fairness though, which young girl would not want a drum kit for Christmas?
“After a lot of practice sessions and gigs in the Honeysuckle Inn the band, who also have close TNS connections, released a CD from which they donated a percentage of sales to the fund. I’d also like to point out at that myself and Sheila are also chanting on this CD as part of the ‘Honeysuckle Choir’ massiv, but that’s another story!
“They have already played here twice, before and after the final game of last season against West Ham United at the request of the Supporters Club.
“Meanwhile, we were still a long way off our target, but a more than generous donation by a person who wishes to remain anonymous and a deal struck with the Bolton Police Force and A and P Cole a few months ago, ensured that we took delivery of the ideal vehicle, what’s more the Police Force and Amir Khan were out guarantors for the remainder of any monies owed!
“Tonight will hopefully see every penny needed to complete our fundraising adventure, during which we have met and made friends with some really nice, and some very inspirational people. The vehicle is kept in Wales as we don’t want to run up the mileage using it to travel from Wigan to Wales most weekends, and it has already been named the ‘Wigan Wagon’ by his rehabilitation support workers and his nurses in Wales!
“The vehicle and Anthony, alertness levels and fatigue permitting, will be present at the Colwyn Bay pre season friendly later this month, so feel free to pop along and witness just what your support tonight will have helped to achieve.
“Tonight also gives us an opportunity to take things further and it is my dream that LATICSUNITED continues after tonight to help some other struggling members of our unique Wigan Athletic community some time in the future. It is a sad fact of life that tragedy does strike people and it makes them feel very vulnerable, alone and helpless. Together, LATICSUNITED and the Supporters Club, who in my opinion should share the same ideals anyway, can carry on what would be a great legacy from Anthony as well.
“I’m going to do you all a favour and stop rambling now, but I can’t go without saying thank you to mine and Sheila’s great families for helping us through a period in our lives that we would not wish on anybody. I certainly can’t leave the stage without also thanking my third family which is quite simply WIGAN ATHLETIC FC and every single person in this room tonight.
“Tonight Sheila is going to find out just why during our thirty years together, her life with me always revolves around Wigan Athletic’s League and Cup fixtures. She’s going to find out that it is the feel and the soul of this great club, and its fabulous supporters, past and present, that is in my blood, and I just can not do anything about it!
“There’s a well known song you know, that Sheila sang to Anthony every single day whilst he was in that coma, and she still does on most weekends. It’s called You Are My Sunshine, and Anthony truly is our sunshine and as long as I think, as long as I talk, as long as I stand and as long as I walk, and have the support of all of you in this room tonight. NOBODY IS GOING TO TAKE THAT SUNSHINE AWAY.
Enjoy the evening which has been made possible by this wonderful club, its officials, LATICSUNITED and a lot of friends that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
The accompanying photographs were taken by myself on the night. The first shows – left to right – Tommy Gore, Noel Ward, Mike Flynn, Matt Jackson, Neill Rimmer and Mick Worswick. The second photograph shows Wigan Athletic’s unofficial band, The Empty Seats.
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