The biggest Dons related news story, in fact in my opinion the biggest football related story this summer has been the news John Hartson has had to undergo emergency brain surgery following being diagnosed with testicular cancer that has spread to his lungs and brain. Whether you liked Hartson or not, I’m sure all of us understand the tragedy of someone of his age fighting for his life. Plus I’d like to think nearly all Dons fans would consider Big John as something of, if not an icon or legend, certainly a cult hero.
During his two season cameo he showed a real desire to perform to his best while wearing a Dons shirt. His sending off at Bradford could be put down to a lack of professionalism. Yet if I had been in his position, as a Wimbledon fan, I could never claim I wouldn’t have done the same. That linesman was a cheating bastard anyway. As supporters all we want to see is a player showing as much passion for the cause as we do. Unfortunately it showed in the wrong way on that miserable day in West Yorkshire, only for him to channel that sense of injustice in the right manner in our last home game.
With Aston Villa leading entering injury time, and the large home crowd sensed all might be lost, there was one man who still believed as Wimbledon won a corner. Hartson noticed David James was all at sea, timed his run to perfection and nodded in what should have been the goal that kept us in the Premier League. Despite what followed, how many of us still rate that as one of their finest moments as a Dons fan? I rate that feeling, standing on my seat in the front row of the Upper Tier of the Holmesdale Road Stand roaring out songs of defiance with 8,000 fellow Wombles (and strangely one Kingstonian supporter), alongside the emotional end to AFC Wimbledon’s first friendly at Sutton, and an FA Cup triumph that even a young eleven year old could properly appreciate on that hot afternoon at Wembley, after the longest three quarters of an hour of my life before that final whistle blew.
The high points of football aren’t always the victories. Its great to celebrate another title, but it doesn’t beat those moments when all seems lost, something happens that lets you dare to dream once more. John Hartson gave me one of those moment in 2000. As he gave those moments to Luton fans, where he started his career as a powerful, raw young striker, during some memorable cup ties at Kenilworth Road. And of course he really developed into a world class striker during his time at Celtic, where he rightly became a true football legend.
Yet as the man himself said ‘If anyone can beat this, I can’. If John makes a full recovery from this horrible disease he can become a hero and roll model far beyond even his achievements as a footballer. He can give hope to those who have none, to cancer sufferers up and down the country. But perhaps most importantly, if just one person reads about him, gets themselves checked and a cancerous lump is discovered early, he will have given more than hope. He will have saved a life. And that is an achievement that dwarfs even ‘that goal’ as far as I’m concerned.
Good luck, John.