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Walsall FC players bring festive cheer to patients

2023-12-22T08:41:42+00:00Thursday 21 December 2023|

Walsall FC stars played Santa to bring Christmas cheer to patients and staff on their annual festive visit to Walsall Manor Hospital.

The entire Saddlers squad, joined by their manager Mat Sadler and mascot Swifty, toured several wards and Discharge Lounge, giving out toys to poorly children and chocolates to other patients in between selfies and signing autographs.

Striker Danny Johnson joined a Facetime call with four-year-old Sofie, the daughter of Michael Lees, a Charge Nurse on the Intensive Care Unit.

“She loves Danny,” said Michael. “She will only watch when Danny is playing – if the manager takes him off, she won’t watch! I think it stems back to when he scored at her first game last season and she remembers that because he did his ‘DJ’ goal celebration!”

Danny, 30, who became a dad in July to Rosie, said: “It’s important to give something back to the community because we’re in a privileged position so it’s nice to put a smile on people’s faces because of what they’re going through. I hate seeing kids in that situation and it’s hard to take in.”

Callum Hickinbottom thought all his Christmases had come at once after seeing his Saddlers heroes visit the Children’s Ward, where his month-old premature twin daughters Serenity-Rose and Scarlett Rae are patients. They were due on Christmas Day but have lost weight.

The 20-year-old from Coalpool, follows the Saddlers home and away, taking 22-month-old son Freddie, and has been invited to the training ground.

“I idolise Danny Johnson and when he walked in I cried – he hugged me and I cried in his arms!” said Callum, who had his photo taken with Mat Sadler outside. “I’d have said we’ve got a better chance of reaching Wembley than this happening – I thought I was dreaming!

“My uncle used to take me to games when I was five and I want the name of my late nan, Polly Hickinbottom, on a brick in the supporters’ wall.”

The twins’ allegiance looks set to be the Saddlers as all Callum’s cousins attend games and his partner Shania Newton’s family are all regulars at Bescot Stadium, where her granddad was a steward.

Saddlers fanatic Kenny Lyons who lives in Hednesford is waiting to have leg abscesses drained and gave players a club history lesson at his bedside!

Kenny, 65, has two Walsall FC tattoos on his head, and said: “I’m diehard Walsall through and through, though I prefer going to away games.

“This has really lifted my spirits and woke me up! I’m so glad they have come in.”

Patient Dorothy Edwards, 87, from Brownhills, is recovering from a broken hip and was also being cheered up by her two grand-daughters, Chloe Cole, 23, and Ashleigh Cole, 19.

“I follow Walsall on TV and it’s lovely to see the players – it’s really cheered me up along with seeing my grand-daughters,” added Dorothy.

Alwyn Birch, 92, from Great Wyrley, is on the mend after breaking his leg. “It’s a nice surprise as I didn’t know anything about it,” said Alwyn, who played amateur football for Bloxwich Town and was with his daughter Sally Bryant.

Glenis Cockayne, 70, from Rugeley, has broken her spine and neck after falling downstairs and was being looked after by avid Walsall fan Josh Bannister, Trainee Advanced Clinical Practitioner. Josh was later treated to a one-to-one chat with Saddlers boss Mat.

“It’s lovely of them to come in because it’s brave and not easy to do when you’re young to do these things,” said Glenis. “When you’re older you’ll talk to anyone!”

For Lily Cooper, 77, from Walsall, the visit evoked memories of a family memory with a special Saddlers connection.

“My son-in-law’s dad Roger Johnson used to be the groundsman and we used to go dancing at the Saddlers Club,” recalled Lily, who has broken her hip.

Mat Sadler, a dad of three, said: “It’s heartbreaking for kids and their families spending Christmas in hospital so if we can put some smiles on people’s faces it makes it more than worthwhile. The staff here are amazing and incredible.”

In the Discharge Lounge, players signed autographs for Rachel Dawson, Senior Sister, and Zoe Farrington, Clinical Support Worker, whose respective 11-year-old sons Charley and Jonathon are Walsall FC regulars.

Mum of seven Zoe, 42, from Beechdale, said: “Jonathon loves the players and it’s fantastic of them to go around the wards. This will make his day.”

Rachel, from Cannock, said: “It’s amazing seeing all the players – it really picks everyone’s spirits up.”

Lindsey Smith, Ward Clerk, said players had paid a visit to the home of Walsall super fan Jack Huskinson, 98, her nephew’s great granddad from Palfrey, who has scrapbooks on the Saddlers going back 80 years.

Georgie Westley, Fundraising Manager for Walsall Healthcare’s charity Well Wishers, who organised the visit, said: “It was wonderful to see the players engaging with the patients and staff. They did themselves proud and it really brought plenty of festive cheer to everyone.”

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