Jan 4 2014 by Nick Hilton, Sat WIR
WHENEVER Tranmere play, home or away, winger Joe Thompson is sent a reminder that fans of the Wirral club are right behind him as he faces up to a course of treatment for cancer.
Rovers opponents are sometimes perplexed when a section of the crowd breaks into applause in the seventh minute of games, when nothing of note is happening on the pitch.
The minute’s applause was first observed in Tranmere’s League One game at Preston at the beginning of November, at the end of a week when it was first disclosed Thompson is suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The seventh minute was chosen because seven is the number Thompson has worn on a shirt since joining Tranmere from Rochdale in the summer of 2012.
The gesture had official sanction for a couple of matches, at which point supporters decided they wanted to carry on at every game, so Thompson always knows he has not been forgotten.
The echo of applause carries all the way to Prestwich in Manchester where Thompson, 24, lives with his girlfriend Chantelle Perry and daughter Thailula.
The backing from fans is matched by the support from within the club, within the football community and from the world of professional sport. Rovers regularly receive signed shirts from other clubs and cards from well-wishers, which are passed on.
Manager Ronnie Moore says Thompson’s misfortune puts the on-the-field concerns of the season into context.
He added: “I think what happened to Joe has made the dressing room even closer. When someone in the family is ill, you rally round and hopefully make things right for them.”
As the season turns into a new year, well-wishers are encouraged to learn that Thompson has agreed to pioneer a new drug treatment to aid his fight against Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Thompson says taking part in the trial of a new antibody drug, led by Professor John Radford, at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, has given him encouragement as he faces up to a six-month course of treatment and chemotherapy.
He said: “Now I’m feeling very positive about the new research trial and after I had weighed up the pros and cons it was just a no-brainer really. It was just fortunate that the doctor was based at Christie’s and I live in Manchester.”
Thompson’s life was turned upside down when he discovered he had a form of cancer. Concerns about holding down a place in Tranmere’s first team melted away with the news.
Thompson said: “The moment I found out I had cancer I was just in complete shock. I genuinely thought it would have just been an infection or glandular fever. It caught me off guard. I mean I’m only 24 and I couldn’t believe it was happening to me, I honestly thought I was invincible, I eat healthily and exercise and I don’t really drink.
“But after I found out it all clicked into place, the symptoms of that type of cancer were exactly what I’d had. The tiredness is like no other, it’s not just a long day or a big work-out at the gym. I have to admit though, I was relieved to just have finally found out what was wrong with me.
“What was comforting was that the doctors immediately said that if you had to pick a cancer this would be it as it has such a high survival rate. It’s just the ‘c’ word though isn’t it, it’s so scary and we didn’t really know many people who had been treated for it before.”
Tranmere’s club doctor first urged Thompson to undergo hospital tests on the Wirral, before he was transferred to The Christie.
Thompson added: “It’s definitely going to be a challenge and of course I get really down some days. What I need is people around me to take my mind off it because if I’m on my own for too long I just think about everything too much.
“I have my loved ones to keep me strong and I’m so lucky to have such a fantastic family. As a family we’re all really close. On the day I was told I had cancer my daughter just instinctively knew there was something up and she wouldn’t stop crying. It was so strange because the moment the doctor told us, she knew something was wrong.
“I guess she just knew there was a twinkle in daddy’s eye which wasn’t there anymore. We all slept crammed on the sofa together that night because Lula wouldn’t settle and she usually goes to sleep like clockwork.”
Footballers who have had their own battles with cancer, including Alan Stubbs, Bryan Robson and former referee Mark Halsey, have all sent messages of support. So has tennis player Ross Hutchins.
Thompson said: “It definitely made me feel so much more positive hearing from stars such as these. They have all been so nice and inspiring to me at such a difficult time.I have got all of their numbers and they said I can contact them whenever I need to chat. Everybody has just been so fantastic though. My family and teammates have all been there for me and it means so much.”
Thompson has high hopes of returning to training next season. He said: “There are so many success stories out there you wouldn’t believe it. At first I got a little selfish and didn’t want to talk about it. But now I know there is no point in hiding away, I’m not going to be reserved and I want to help others in a similar situation as much as I can.”