Arsenal has a long-standing relationship with the Willow Foundation, which organises special days out for seriously ill young people. David Williams, 37, from Welwyn Garden City, recalls a memorable trip to Emirates Stadium at the end of last season
“I’ve had lots of ups and downs in life and some dark times as a child and young adult, but being diagnosed with terminal cancer has given me a clarity that puts everything into perspective.
“I’d been ill for several months and at the beginning of this year I was admitted to hospital. Two days later I was having a brain biopsy to remove a cystic brain tumour. Then I was diagnosed with grade 4 astrocytoma – terminal brain cancer.
“I have two children, a daughter who’s 15 and a son who turned four just four days before my diagnosis. The surgeon looked at me with regret and tears filled his eyes as he informed me that it was ‘highly unlikely’ I would get to walk my daughter Lily down the aisle or watch Henry playing football. I was devastated, but these are the cards I’ve been dealt and I have to make the best of it. I insist on enjoying the time I have left.
“Bob Wilson started the Willow Foundation in Welwyn Garden City so everyone here knows it. I went to Isabel Hospice and my nurse Sharon told me about Willow’s #SpecialDays out for the young and terminally ill. She applied on my behalf and it all happened really quickly. Before I could gather my emotions I was stood in Box 111 as a guest at the game against Leeds United in May, applauding Bob Wilson and the other Arsenal Legends from that era. I had been to plenty of Arsenal matches but this one was very different.
“Earlier that week Claire from Willow sent me a shirt, and I was still smiling the next day when she sent me a video. It started at someone’s feet before panning up, and it was Eddie Nketiah. I had literally been screaming his name after the Chelsea game and here he was telling me that he knew I’d been having a hard time and that all the players were with me. ‘Just wanted to send you some love and support and to stay strong, we're all behind you and supporting you, everyone here at Arsenal Football Club is sending you love.’
“I burst out crying. It meant so much to me that I kept it to myself for a while, playing it on a loop rather than sharing it on social media.
“The day itself was surreal. A car collected me and my brother Adam and it wasn’t until we got to the carpeted stadium entrance that it really sunk in. We went in and I saw Louis Dunford and then I walked past Ben White. I wish I’d had time to get a selfie but it all happened so fast!
“We went to the Willow box and I turned around to see Nigel Winterburn sat behind me. I’d grown up watching him play! I didn’t want to take photos during the match because I wanted to be in the moment – I still remember Sol Campbell scoring his first Arsenal goal at Highbury and I didn’t have a phone then. But I had to get a selfie. It’s great that former players are still part of the club, and this was a highlight of the day. We called the game together at times and of course Arsenal won 2-1, with the goals coming at our end.
“I still remember when I was 12 or 13 I was watching Arsenal on TV and the commentator said that the players had all donated a day’s wages to Great Ormond Street, and I loved the club from that point on. That was the club I wanted my children to grow up supporting.
“I wanted to give something back so I’m taking part in the Virtual London Marathon on October 2 on behalf of Willow – I’m allowed to do it on an exercise bike. I’d love to know that I did something to help someone have a day like I had. I didn’t think about my illness the whole day, and that’s what makes these days so important.
“I also think more clubs should follow Arsenal’s blueprint for helping others. The club has been innovating since the days of Herbert Chapman and that extends beyond the pitch. Football is just a game, but Arsenal makes it so much more than that.”
For more info visit willowfoundation.org.uk
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