I’m sure I wasn’t alone wiping away a tear of sadness when reading Monday’s edition of the IRC Newsletter. My boss and friend Joao Da Mata told of his heartbreak on hearing the news that his young friend Jack had passed away from Meningitis. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain of losing your child. I gave my big lump Tommy G a slightly excessive hug that day.
I always wanted to be a Dad, but had to wait until I was 42 to fulfill my ambition. Tommy was in no rush to arrive, and had to be induced two weeks after he was due. Reluctantly he finally made an entrance at 10:30pm on April 15, 2003, after a Labour that lasted 14 and a half hours!! Weighing in at 8lbs 4ozs, it became immediately apparent that he was going to be a handful.
From the day he could walk I put a ball in his hands. Every day was Sports Day, and like all Dads of limited sporting talent, nothing brought me greater joy than watching my son excel on the playing fields of England. Sport has been the bedrock of our relationship, and in 2012 we shared the ultimate father/son experience.
Like most Dads, I took it for granted my son would support my team – the mighty Blues. I’d been a Chelsea FC fan since 1966, and had even dated my childhood hero Peter Bonnetti’s daughter Suzanne at Drama School. If I’m brutally honest I just wanted to meet her old man – which I did – and I’m thrilled to report he proved worthy of my adolescent admiration.
Such was my respect for “The Cat” that I couldn’t bring myself to make any kind of serious move on Suzanne. I literally played the White Knight for three months before departing these shores for my first professional acting gig in Africa. I met Suzanne some 25 years later and apologised for my saintly behaviour. Her response? “Wow! Thanks for telling me. I’ve always just assumed you were gay!”
Anyway, my love affair with Chelsea FC hit an all-time high when in the late 90’s I started to host their annual Christmas lunch, and later worked as a Presenter of Chelsea TV. This all came in handy when in 2012 Chelsea managed to reach the Champions League Final, after their stunning backs-to-the-wall performance in the semi-final against Barcelona.
Like many fans I immediately booked my flight and a Hotel in Munich, determined to take Tommy to his first ever Champions League Final. Only problem – the tickets were going for £3000+ each on the black market. In desperation I emailed the Club’s Chairman Bruce Buck (who I had met through my work for the club) to ask if he could steer a couple of face-value tickets my way.
Given that ‘JT’ and Ramirez were both out for the final I argued that Chelsea needed all the lucky mascots they could get – and Tommy G had never seen Chelsea draw – let alone lose. Much to my amazement Bruce promptly invited Tommy and I to be VIP guests of the Club at the game. This entailed flying out with the players on the Friday, having dinner with the Directors, sitting in the best seats in the Stadium and flying home with the players and their families after the game.
I was naturally beside myself with excitement – but I had a problem. I was contracted to work the Friday before the game, and I couldn’t break the contract. Bruce didn’t seem to mind and said just get out there on Saturday on your own steam and we’ll see you there.
Two weeks before the Final I hosted an Auction in the Royal Albert Hall for the London 2012 Olympics. I found myself backstage with my former employee, Olympic legend and fellow Chelsea fan Sir Steve Redgrave. It turns out he was also invited by the Club for the big game, and, like me, he also had a prior commitment on the Friday night.
Amazingly, we were both booked on the same flight to Munich on the Saturday. On route to the airport I tried to tell my 9 year-old son that we were about to fly with
the greatest Olympian Britain had ever known. Inevitably Tommy G was not impressed, until I told him that Steve was the only coin we had at that point collected as part of the ESSO Olympic Coin collection.
The journey passed without incident until we arrived at the Hotel and attempted to collect our VIP passes. It was then we discovered that someone posing as me (with ID) and someone posing as Sir Steve’s son (with ID) had already collected our tickets. I immediately phoned Simon Hunter (my contact at CFC) to ask him his advice. We were told to just get to the Stadium and they’d get us in somehow.
On arrival we had to go in via the main turn-styles. This proved tortuous in the extreme as every single Chelsea fan spotted Steve and wanted a photo and/or Autograph. Being the perfect gent, he never said no – and as Tommy and I waited for him to progress through the throng, Tommy remarked: “Dad, Sir Steve is really famous isn’t he?”
Finally we made it to our seats which proved a Who’s Who of Chelsea legends and Chelsea-supporting Celebs. Only problem was that two Bayern Munich fans were plonked in Tommy and my seats. Given this was the Chelsea section, it was obvious they had purchased my stolen tickets off a Tout. The poor unsuspecting souls were promptly arrested and escorted off the premises. Tommy G and I settled into our uncommonly comfortable seats for the biggest game of our Chelsea-loving lives.
For those with a long memory you’ll remember the game was very much one-way traffic, and Chelsea were hanging on for dear life. Then, with just 8 minutes left, Bayern Munich scored. Tommy G was distraught and tears started to flow. I grabbed him and asked him why he was upset. I said: “You’re Tommy G – Chelsea never lose when you’re in attendance!”
At that moment Torres was substituted onto the field and Chelsea won their first corner of the game. I turned to Tommy and told him: “Didier (Drogba) is going to score! You mark my words son!” And promptly he did. It was the greatest header I have ever witnessed and we all went crazy. Tommy turned to me and said: “How did you know Dad?”
This sent the game into extra-time and Didier went from hero to zero when he conceded a penalty. Again Tommy started to get upset, and again I grabbed him and said: “Son why the tears? Who’s that in goal? I’ll tell you – Petr Cech, the greatest goalie in the world. He’ll save the penalty!” And he promptly did.
Again my son pleaded: “Dad how did you know?” The game of course being in Germany inevitably went to penalties, and almost as inevitably Chelsea missed their first kick. But now Tommy looked at me full of confidence. “It’s fine Dad” he said. “I’m here – Chelsea cannot lose!”
And he was right. Petr Cech saved not one but two German penalties and set up the moment we had all been dreaming off. Up stepped Didier Drogba to slot home the winning penalty. He took a two-step run-up – two steps for God’s sake!! Please Didier take a proper run-up I cried. But he didn’t need to.
What happened next is a bit of a blur. As we all went absolutely mental, I saw my son being lifted into the air by first Sir Steve Redgrave and then Lord Sebastian Coe. It seemed surreal. Tommy asked me after the game if he had to go to bed. I told him: “No son. On this day, you can stay up as late as you want!”
I finally carried him up to bed at 3am. He’d passed out on my shoulders, much to the disapproval of many of the Mums in attendance. The following day – exhausted – he discovered he was flying home with the players and the trophy and a Match Day programme that included a Who’s Who of signatures. We were shattered but elated, and as we drove home I smiled at my gorgeous boy and uttered the immortal line: “Son – it’ll never be this good again!”
God Bless You, Jack.
Until next time.
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