As a professional footballer, Geoff Thomas never shirked a challenge. He?s remained consistent since, as he fights leukaemia.
Now, with more than four years of remission ahead of him, Geoff is trying to ease the suffering of those also suffering from the dreaded disease.
And he?s doing it the hard way. He?s set to cycle every mile of the Tour de France route in the summer, one of the most arduous sporting challenges in the world. And in doing so, he?ll be following the inspirational example of his sporting hero, Lance Armstrong, who, in beating testicular cancer, continued winning the Tour de France an amazing six times.
Geoff, who played with distinction for Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Nottingham Forest and for England, vividly remembers the day when Armstrong influenced his life. It was when he was coming to terms with the realisation that, at the age of 39, his life might be drawing to a close early and cruelly.
He was at his home in a Worcestershire village, still in shock at the leukaemia diagnosis, when a book was delivered. It was from a friend who felt Geoff needed some guidance in battling the disease. It was called It?s Not About the Bike, the story of how Lance Armstrong fought against his own bleak diagnosis. Geoff read it in one sitting that day.
Now he plans to start the Tour de France a week earlier than the official competitors and finish the 2,400-mile course in just over three weeks. Some days he and his team will have to cycle around 140 miles and the next day another 150 miles. They realise that it?ll take almost double the hours per day as Armstrong and the other superbly fit cyclists, but the challenge is there and it won?t be shirked.
Geoff hopes to raise around #200,000 for Leukaemia Research and that drive sustains him as he fits in 300 miles a week in training.
?It?s sore on the backside, but I?m getting used to it. I did four hours to Stratford and back the other day and got lost. But I followed the sun and worked out where I should be. The time in the saddle helps me think and realise there are people unluckier than me, still in hospital, who I see whenever I go back for a check-up.?
He agrees that the fitness levels he built up as a professional footballer were vital in his recovery period and that the bone marrow transplant from his sister was a perfect match.
But the three months after coming out of Birmingham?s QE Hospital last year were ?a total wipeout. I felt sick from the anti-rejection drugs from just walking around my garden. One day I looked in my mirror and saw an 80-year-old staring back at me.?
His hair is sparser now, and close-cropped and he wears glasses, because his eyes have been affected by the chemotherapy ? but he?s getting there. Five long years of remission give him the chance to help those still battling against leukaemia.
?Lance Armstrong?s book instilled the right frame of mind into me. Because he ignored the testicular cancer for so long, he was only given a 20 per cent chance of survival but he got there.?
He hopes to tap into the experiences of another sporting hero before going to France. Ian Botham.
?What Ian did in all those walks for Leukaemia Research for so many years was absolutely incredible. He raised #5 million! I?d like to hear how he managed to deal with the pain every day, and still get up the next morning and do it all over again.?
Ian Botham?s generosity of spirit will mean that Geoff will definitely hear from him before he starts that gruelling test in June.
Donations can be made by visiting www.geoff_thomas.com or to the Leukaemia Research Fund, 43 Great Ormond Street, London WC1N 3JJ.
Blustering Chelsea must rein in Jose
So Chelsea FC failed to bluff their way out of the Ashley Cole Tapping-Up story. Serves them right for being so arrogant and underestimating some excellent, old-fashioned reporting by the paper that broke the story.
The News of the World has never been essential reading for this columnist, but it should be congratulated for its excellent contacts, for marshalling the evidence from various reliable witnesses and sticking to its guns in the face of Chelsea?s bluster.
There is a place, after all, for solid, brave tabloid journalism that moves away from all that ?wantaway striker last night rapped back at the boo-boys? tosh.
Chelsea?s foolhardiness in arranging to meet Ashley Cole in broad daylight in a fashionable London hotel beggars belief.
Did they think no one would spot their officials talking to an England footballer who just happens to play for another London club? Isn?t Jose Mourinho?s profile rather high since he came to these shores last summer?
It was unworthy of Mourinho to pooh-pooh the story, saying he?d been in Italy that day, seeing a Portuguese player, reminding himself what it?s like to speak in Portuguese.
Sometimes you can be too smart with the media and it rebounds on you. He?s having a bad trot at the moment, Mourinho, and his judgment away from the football field is awry.
Someone needs to rein in this brilliant coach and fascinating character but it can?t be Chelsea?s chief executive, Peter Kenyon, who now lacks credibility.
Kenyon, who was also at that meeting with Cole, was totally exposed when he tried arrogantly to waffle through precise questioning on Five Live after the story broke. In agreeing to do that interview, Kenyon was holed beneath the water line.
He?d already been undermined by the exposure that he?d courted Sven-Goran Eriksson a year ago and that Steven Gerrard had been tapped up to leave Liverpool last summer, only to change his mind at the last minute. Kenyon not only gets caught out, he fails to deliver while achieving deserved contempt. Laughable.
Perhaps Roman Abramovich will stop off from one of his world cruises and read the riot act to his expensive charges. I doubt it. He?ll simply brush off the expected heavy fine as so much small change and as long as Chelsea deliver the Premiership and (possibly) the Champions League to him, he won?t fuss over the moral issues.
Billionaires tend not to fret about such niceties. Deduction of points won?t seriously undermine Chelsea either because they are now so far ahead in the Premiership.
A ban on Mourinho coaching for several matchdays would give him and his club greater pause for thought. And so would a moratorium on any incoming transfers the next time we have a transfer window.
One Chelsea player might have a problem over the next few weeks if investigations lead to punitive action from the Football Association. Frank Lampard, in common with many England players who affect to despise the press, has a lucrative deal with a tabloid newspaper. In Lampard?s case, the News of the World.
The time has come to put Beckham out of his misery
England won?t win the World Cup next year if David Beckham stays in the side. There, I feel better for writing that down. It?s something that?s festered for some time and getting it out has been a cathartic experience.
Beckham?s expertise with dead-ball moves is now so much old tactical hat. He?s a one-trick pony. No pace, no tackling ability, no drive. Even his free-kicks are predictable now, lacking the deadliness of three and four years ago.
Significantly, Frank Lampard took a few of England?s direct freekicks in the second half during Saturday?s canter against Northern Ireland. Beckham just seems to keep hitting the defensive wall.
There are no relevant England games left between now and the World Cup. Will that give Sven-Goran Eriksson the space to make a hard decision about Beckham?
His captain is 30 now and will not improve as a player. In fact, there is clear evidence that his powers are in decline.
Beckham and Eriksson have been joined at the hip for far too long and it?s years since Beckham demonstrated that to him captaincy is anything more than ruffling cheerily the hair of the little lad who walks out with him, hand in hand, before the game.
Significantly, he had to be reminded of his positional responsibilities on Saturday when he kept wandering infield, rather than stick to his designated position, wide on the right. A player of his experience and eminence shouldn?t need to be told.
Beckham has let England down in the last two major tournaments, in 2002 and 2004. When fit again, Shaun Wright-Phillips looks a more dynamic bet in his position, while Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole have so much more to offer in midfield. There are also a host of candidates for the captaincy, as the team grows up together.
It?s fanciful for Beckham to muse about reaching 100 caps , as he was allowed to do last week in the build-up to Saturday?s game. He is more than 20 short and Eriksson must not indulge him in this ambition. Eriksson is wasting a precious place in the side by continuing to pick him.
Clearly, Beckham is going through another personal crisis out in Spain and we can all sympathise with his desire to protect the privacy of his children against the prying lenses of the paparazzi. But he was the one who wanted the move to Real Madrid in 2003, because he needed the challenge, so he must have known some of the difficulties that lay ahead.
Was the press responsible for Rebecca Loos?
He was also the father who brought his son, Brooklyn onto the pitch at Old Trafford at the end of his last match for Manchester United. Young Brooklyn looked very cute in his replica kit as he kicked a ball around with his proud dad. Not much evidence there of an overwhelming desire to preserve his son?s anonymity.
Beckham?s troubled mind is clear in his inconsistent comments and actions. The day after he said he accepted the cameras tracking him, but not his children, he exploded in rage at photographers having the audacity to snap him while shopping in Manchester.
Parked outside the boutique was his trendy car, with his name emblazoned on the tyres. Bit of a giveaway of his whereabouts, that one. Methinks Beckham protesteth too much.
He is raging against the dying of the light in terms of his career, not the peripherals.
Nothing in his life will ever compensate him for his decline as a footballer, because he has loved the game so much. When he finally leaves Real Madrid, the shortage of credible suitors will bring home to him that his time in the sun has gone. Tottenham and Middlesborough don?t really compare with Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Sport can be cruel as well as entrancing if you?re good enough to shine at it, as David Beckham has done for the last decade.
It will damage England?s World Cup chances if Eriksson is too sensitive of that and opts to let Beckham down gently and eventually.