This is a photo of my friend Sam playing football. It’s not even a very good photo but it is an important one for us at this football club. Sam has been on quite a journey over the last two years but before we get into that let’s go back to the beginning.
I first met Sam when he and a mate of his turned up for pre-season training for Bardon in late 2012. We were having a small sided game and quickly dehydrating in the blazing Queensland summer sun. I don’t remember much apart from thinking that Sam’s mate was a good player.
His mate never came back and Sam signed for the team. He played 17 of the 19 league games as Bardon finished second bottom with four wins and -51 goal difference. The only team below us gave up half way through the season. He scored one goal that season but mostly played at centre-back despite protesting he was a striker. Aren’t they all?
A glutton for punishment he signed up for the next season and even agreed to coach the first team and play reserve team football. He was happy to play reserves because he’d been losing weight and was struggling to see off a stomach bug.
In the reserves we gave Sam a go up top and it paid dividends. We actually formed a bit of a partnership and I’d knock the ball over the top for Sam to run onto and every one in a few might go in. What’s better than two English lads turning a shade of lobster whilst playing the long ball?
As this was happening Sam was fighting to see off the illness. I remember him eating dry crackers for lunch in our many meetings to pick teams for the weekends games. Although when I say pick sides it was mostly about checking to see if we had enough fit players. I vividly remember these meetings because I was kind of jealous of his lunch, I really love dry crackers for some reason.
We were about eight games into the season when the increasingly frail Sam went down under a challenge on the edge of the box. It seemed pretty innocuous and as chance would have it I was more concerned about my own injured knee. I think he may even have played on holding his hand and somehow managed to score his tenth goal of the season.
Both injuries turned out to be season ending and we both trotted out the ‘we can focus on the coaching’ line.
As the weeks passed and over many more lunch meetings Sam would talk about the endless appointments with dietary specialists he was having and the stronger medication he was being prescribed. I’d listen thinking it was strange. I could see him fading away physically. And every day I wondered if it would be the day that he would finally share a cracker with me.
The season was going better and we had an outside chance of making the finals. Sam had some good news on the home front with his wife falling pregnant but that also seemed to add to the pressure of finding out what was wrong with him.
The season ended and we missed out on finals but the whole club had been changed for the better. I’ll never know how Sam balanced all the pressures but he did.
Exasperated Sam pushed his doctor for further scans. The scans pointed to kidney cancer and after a few more tests it was confirmed. He was just 34-years-old at the time.
Following surgery to remove a kidney, and subsequent treatment Sam took last year off to recover. He would often bring baby Harry to home games as the team he helped form took the league title and gained promotion.
This summer Sam came back to pre-season training and has been working to get fit. He’s already scored four goals including a hat-trick in one of those games.
I asked him how he would explain the last two years.
“People often say when bad things of any sort happen, that you put things like football into perspective and realise how other things are more important.
“For me it was the opposite, and, along with the support of friends and family, the driver that kept me going at times was the ambition to get back on a football pitch with some mates and score some goals.
“The things you enjoy in life and the people who make your life enjoyable become the most important things and getting that number 10 shirt back on for Bardon has been so important for the physical and mental recovery,” Sam said.
Welcome back Sam.