A group of young footballers are causing comedic chaos as they tackle 2,000 keepy uppies to raise money for Brain Tumour Research.
Ruthin U8s based in Denbighshire, North Wales, is taking part in the charity’s One Million Keepy Uppy Challenge after coach Becky Davies lost her father, John Williams, to brain cancer in 2019.
Becky, whose son Harrison, seven, is in the team, said: “The kids are really getting into this challenge; they are having so much fun. The skill level varies so it’s usually absolute chaos, with balls flying everywhere. It’s a mix of brilliant and hilarious.
“I’ve wanted to do something to raise awareness and money for Brain Tumour Research for a while and this challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity. My dad loved football, he’s a reason I got into coaching, and he would have been chuffed to see the kids doing this for such an important cause.”
The 44-year-old who is also mum to Tom, 14, and Jamie, 12, is one of five coaches for the 30-strong team. They have pledged to rack up 2,000 keepy uppies by doing some during their weekly training and some at home with their families keeping count.
Although inspired by John, Becky said the challenge had also prompted many of the players’ families to mention personal links with the brain tumour cause. Research shows one in three people know someone affected by a brain tumour.
A keen Everton fan, John was also a “super fit” grandfather-of-four, but in 2018 he started visibly slowing down.
Becky, a chartered surveyor, said: “He started struggling with odd things, like tying knots and reverse parking. Then he developed a bit of a slur in his speech. One morning he couldn’t use his knife and fork to eat his eggs on toast.”
A visit to his GP saw him referred to Glan Clwyd Hospital for an MRI scan, which revealed a tumour. He had a biopsy at The Walton Centre, a neurology and neurosurgery centre within Aintree University Hospital, and was diagnosed with primary brain CNS lymphoma (PCNSL).
Becky said: “There were no explanations; nothing he did caused or could have prevented the tumour. He was told it was ‘luck of the draw’, that’s why more research is so desperately needed.”
John underwent chemotherapy but it did not make an impact on the cancer, so he chose to stop the treatment and go home.
Becky said: “Mum was amazing, she cared for him, and the community nurses were outstanding too. It was really tough but thank God it was before the COVID pandemic, so we were able to spend lots of time with him. We bought a car with wheelchair access to get him out on family trips during his last few months and we had some really lovely times together.”
John died aged 70 on 2 July, 2019; his grandson Tom’s birthday.
“That was really weird and it added to my devastation, but actually now it feels like a blessing. I can’t be sad on that day; I need to shake it off and be happy for Tom. Now that day is spent remembering all the good things about Dad and staying positive,” Becky added.
She described her father as “the nicest man, who was never cross, and who loved everything about being a grandfather”.
“I think because he had two girls, he always sneakily wanted a boy, so he relished every minute spent with his grandsons. He adored them, he was always out on bikes with them, doing crafts, everything,” she added.
The One Million Keepy Uppy Challenge is symbolic of the £1 million it costs to fund a Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence for a year.
Mel Tiley, community development manager at Brain Tumour Research, said: “John’s story is heart-breaking, but, sadly, with one in three people knowing someone affected by a brain tumour, it is not unique.
“Brain tumours kill more children than leukaemia, and more men under the age of 70 than prostate cancer; yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease. This has got to change. We’re really grateful to Becky and Ruthin U8s for supporting our vital research. Together we will find a cure.”
To donate to the team’s fundraising efforts visit: https://www.justgiving.com/page/ruthin-town-u8s-challange