Talking Point

Guest Post by Terence Bates

Dear David,

I trust you don’t mind me giving you this note. I am a West Ham supporter of fifty plus years who sits immediately behind the subs bench. My family originate from the same part of the world Mark Noble does. My late grandfather was at the first Wembley Cup Final.

I have quite a unique perspective of West Ham football club and this seasons challenges and a perspective that in a surreal way this season, mirrors my own life over the last year. I feel the need to reach out and tell you about it. There is relevance.

I’ll tell you about my ‘season’ first.

I run my own business which is in the catering and events industry. It is known as Clapton Country Club and also includes a café/store called The Tram Store. We are in East London, Clapton E5 not too far from the new stadium.

In 2019 we went for expansion and with lofty ideas of what we could achieve.
Hell, we even ‘signed’ a Brazilian (Edson), a Ukrainian (Ana), a Pole (Igor) an Italian (Davide) and a Jamaican (Patrick). We have assembled a talented squad of both internationals and home grown ‘players’ who have helped grow this business by 40 % over the last 12 months with great acclaim and reviews, developing many local and international ‘supporters’ along the way.

We have created something very special vibe here . We are a team.

We looked forward to our 2020 ‘season’ with great relish. We have live music, stage beautiful weddings, amazing coffee, inspiring breakfasts and an acclaimed Sunday Roast that Elle magazine earlier this year placed us within the best 14 Sunday Roasts in London. (We do a great Scottish Rib-Eye David!). Included, in the 14 were the big boys like Tom Kerridge’s and Sabor (A Michelin star restaurant). I was chuffed.

So, everything is looking fantastic. We were in ascendency and joining the big boys.

Then… serious ‘injury’ struck. A bolt from nowhere.

During the summer I was diagnosed with throat and mouth cancer. I was now going to face a ‘relegation’ battle. I was deeply concerned on how the business would cope.

I was also angry… I mean why me? A non-smoker, moderate drinker, a vegetarian and relatively fit albeit sixty-year old bloke and a little overweight, I mean my late grandmother lived to a 102! I fully expected to surpass her.

I was quickly placed in the care of the quite brilliant Royal Marsden Hospital and their fabulous staff. It was lightening paced stuff.

My journey through Chemo and radiotherapy was rocky, perilous, painful, depressing, dark and challenging. I had little time to think. Then very quickly my weight plummeted by 25 kg, I figured I had not eaten properly for ten days and failed to consume water for four days. I was skeletal or in Harry Redknapp’s famous words down to bare bones!

I was then facing admission to a different hospital for what is essentially force-feeding liquid through a tube that goes up your nose into your stomach. However, I as stubborn and indignant as ever did not want to be tube-fed or be admitted to this ‘other’ hospital, I wanted to do it my way or in football parlance ‘The West Ham way. I had my reasons that most around me could not understand (which seemingly mirrors over into other rival supporters who just don’t get what the ‘West Ham way’ is ? Can’t understand it!)

Explained to me was that another four days without water and food and the trap door could come. I was facing organ failure and could be relegated forever. I was physically very weak.

There were tears, there were tantrums and there were arguments over the ‘tactics’ of my treatment and care. I threw the hair dryer across the room many times. We were unsure on what to do and how to play the ‘game’. The stress was intense. My wife and daughter (who is also a nurse) were besides themselves thinking I was going to certainly die, and they saw that my stubbornness as a huge part of the problem. They also thought I had a death ‘wish’ and needed to be sectioned – hell, how mad is that!

All this descended quickly on me like a Liverpool counterattack.

I knew that I had to turn this around. My tactics and approach had to change.

Meanwhile, at this time and no matter what as a season ticket holder I took the decision that I would still attend all the games at the London Stadium. Cancer can eff off…. I was still going, yep apparently another reason (according to my wife) that I needed sectioning.

With this came the parallel journey of watching a different kind of cancer that started to eat at the team I love. The highs and lows were a mirror of the tumour that had struck me down. From the joy of beating Manchester United to the low of losing to Spurs. This was a parallel universe… and both very painful.

Week in week out I suffered both the highs and lows… on equal fronts, with the lows increasing… I mean Newcastle beat us at home and they are pants.

I managed to get the club to allow me to park close to London Stadium, so it was easier for me to access in my fragile state. Despite cancer I was there sticking two fingers up in defiance of the disease … as opposed to sticking them up at rival fans!

Faced with oblivion from not eating and drinking I knew I had to dig deep to find the brightest highest quality gold one could wish for… life.

Despite objections I ditched all the meds I was on, no more anti-sickness pills, no more medicated laxatives, no chemical oral rinse gels, and most importantly no more drowsing junkie methadone, I needed a clear head… and natural products, so in come my new signings Maldon sea salt, legal cannabis oil, Aloe Vera creams, CBD Creams, Manuka honey, propolis, natural steam inhalations, I bought an expensive humidifier, its name was not Arnautovic! This was my transfer window, I needed to buy wisely.

The other tools I personally needed to dig this out were the tools of ‘belief’, ‘determination’ and ‘confidence’, I also needed my ‘team-mates’ around me to muck in and help me dig this gold nugget out. They needed the same tools. I also had to look at my ‘tactics’. It was a team effort from the hospital staff, my family and those who worked tirelessly hard at my business, everyone had a part to play.

We managed to pull through this initial crisis, and two days later I started to eat and drink again. It wasn’t without its dramas and setbacks. I began to get better and had turned the corner or so I thought.

A crisis is very often not one dimensional, just when you think you have defended the crisis away, another frigging bigger striker clatters into you!

I was recovering, I had turned around from being at deaths door to accelerating my treatment and recovery to brilliant effect bowling the doctors over with the speed of recovery, leading to one oncologist two weeks later saying ‘he had never seen such a quick recovery from the effects of radiotherapy before’. Motivated and feeling vindicated I carried on.

I was back in Champions League mode, yet still weak, still fatigued and still dealing with the awful side effects of throat cancer and its treatment (You do not want the graphic details of this). Of course, with all of this I knew that come December I would be hearing the test results for a PET scan to let me know whether the cancer had been beat. I was still way off from the safety zone.

Meanwhile, sitting at home in October on a quiet reflective Sunday evening, the phone rings it was my sister to tell me our Father had just died.

Like many families, it is complicated. My Father died in the very same North London hospital that I was almost admitted to in an emergency a few weeks prior, this where there was consideration to ‘tube’ feed me.

Part of the reason I did not want to be tube-fed was the hospital they wanted to admit me to has a poor reputation. I said at the time if I go in that hospital, I won’t come out. There were no other options. I took a big gamble. The other reason is that tube feeding slows down your natural recovery, if it can be avoided – avoid, obviously in some cases it is wholly necessary, I had established this through the medical team.

I was not close to my Father he was pretty absent for most of my life and I had not seen him in some fifteen years, it was complicated and surreal. He ironically within this hospital had been tube-fed, yet he still died. He went in with a simple urine infection, he never come out. I was rocked by irony.

So… there I am in bed with cancer, now having to deal with the complicated emotional and practical fall out of the death of my Father and the bizarre ghostly ironic circumstances.

My sister and I took the decision to do the opposite to our Father, he may have chosen to be absent from us in life, but we would be present in his death and therefore funeral arrangements. I organised his funeral and affairs despite my health issues.

The stress of this naturally imploded upon me and contributed I am sure to my health nosediving. I succumbed to bugs largely as a result of my immune system being screwed up. It was torrid. We were concerned at what effect this could have on the cancer, Cancer and stress are like Arsenal and Spurs they do not sit well together.

For the first time this season I missed games, perhaps just as well… Leicester and Arsenal games would have pushed me over the edge!

Fortunately, I slowly began to pick up.

Three weeks later, I had my PET scan. This was a scan to essentially tell me whether the tumour has been eradicated or in the oncologist’s words ‘melted’. In trying to explain to friends what my radiotherapy treatment was like, I sarcastically suggested that they go and stick their head in a microwave oven, switch it on to defrost mode and see what happens. None of them took up my challenge.

During the whole insanity of the six months of cancer diagnosis and treatment I had not had the time to dwell on this little vital fact… cancer kills, it doesn’t give a shit how rich or talented you are or what team you support, cancer is the biggest leveller going. It does not discriminate, it does not wear team colours.

As you can imagine… I had a great week dwelling on this, waiting and waiting. But still, I kept my belief, I kept my confidence , I had a fantastic team around me. We were determined.

Then, I got the results face to face… I am in the clear! We won the bloody Premier League, we won the FA Cup! we won the Champions league, we won the…. effing World Cup! All on the same bloody day. We are the champions!… We are the champions! No time for losers….

I tried to kiss the oncologist he wasn’t having it!

The moral of my insane story is; “how with determined thinking, good tactics, organisation hard work, belief and confidence and you too… can win the World Cup or at least avoid relegation!”