I was quite intimidated trying to introduce myself to the older students when I attended that first training on the Rubber Crumb but, to my surprise and relief, this blonde lad with an Arsenal top came up to me and asked what my name was. You had this disarming grin that put me at ease and you made me feel like I was part of something right from the jump, which was testament to how naturally warm and considerate you were.
When we first shared a pitch together, you were a joy to watch. You seemed to have this ability to just glide across the turf and a knack of being able to get yourself out of impossibly tight spaces, not to mention an absolute wand of a left foot (shame you didn’t have a right one). The number of times myself and others would be screaming for the ball, only for you to run it out of play or conjure up a bit of magic all on your own – if you had learnt to pass, you would have been one hell of a player. I enjoyed every minute of those two years playing alongside you.
The year we spent as captains was one that I remember very fondly as I got to know you more as a man. You were methodical and a sharp thinker which, coupled with being irritatingly stubborn at times, made for some thrilling late-night debates and conversations about how we wanted to manage. You were inclusive and strived to make sure that people felt appreciated and comfortable during training and matchdays. In hindsight, I was ill-equipped and out of my depth in that role, and I wouldn’t have been able to cope during that year without your unwavering encouragement and reassurance. I found your leadership and natural empathy to manage people to be inspiring, and I’ve tried my best to emulate your skills in those areas as I’ve gotten older. Even though we shared that role, you were the real captain in the way that you carried yourself and someone that I continued to look up to.
Above all, I got to see how full of fun you were and the passion with which you lived life, whether it was sport, seeing friends, or The Lord of Rings, the latter of which you were horrified to find out that I had never seen, promptly inviting me round for dinner and making me watch the whole bloody thing. We dressed up in ridiculous costumes A LOT that year, so much so that I don’t think we have many ‘normal’ pictures of ourselves. I remember the eureka moment that lit your face up when you suggested that we could dress up as Cersei and Daenerys from Game of Thrones (another series that you insisted that I needed to watch), and the moment we first saw each other wearing the dresses that we had picked out – you said, ‘Aren’t we stunning?’ and I couldn’t stop laughing. We did look good though.
I’m eternally grateful for how much you were there for me when everything happened during second year. A lot of people found it hard to support me during that time in my life but, for you, it wasn’t even a question or something to be deliberated. I never had to ask you for help, advice, or to just listen to me spiral; you always knew the best time to drop me a line and put me at ease as you always had done. On one particular day when I was feeling a bit helpless, you said the perfect thing to me that helped me gain perspective when fixating on what the future held – ‘There’s always a bigger fish’ (your ability to quote Star Wars in any given situation was very impressive). I wouldn’t have made it out of that dark period without the time that you invested in looking out for my mental health even with everything that was going on in your life. I won’t ever be able to repay you for that.
The last conversation we had revolved around football and your excitement about my wedding. It truly breaks my heart coming to terms with you not being there given the hand that you played early on in my relationship, always speaking so positively about Lil when we were first dating. I won’t forget the excited and slightly worried look on your face when, after Lil had bought the three of us a huge round of jägerbombs in downstairs TP, you turned to look at me and said, ‘She seems fun, she’s definitely a keeper, mate’. I guess I listened to your expert advice, one of the many times that your words put me on the right path.
I wish I could have told you all of this in person so you would know how you have touched my life in such a profound way in the six years that we’ve known each other. You are so loved by so many people, and that won’t ever change.
Rest in power, King.