When Jamie Crawley sets out on the London Marathon course on 23rd April, he’ll be motivated by memories of his father Ian, a man who wrote his name large into the history of two Midlands clubs before his life was cut cruelly short by Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
Ian was a hero to fans of both Telford United and VS Rugby, and was probably no less thought of at his other clubs, Kettering Town and Solihull Borough; however, his role as father to Jamie and his sister Sophie was more important than what he achieved on a football pitch.
Jamie and Sophie should have expected to spend many more years in Ian’s company once his footballing days came to an end. Sadly, Ian’s death, in 2008, left a space that couldn’t be filled in their lives, and even though time has helped to heal their pain, it’s the memory of what Ian went through, and the knowledge of what other families with loved ones devastated by MND have to face, that has motivated Jamie to lace up his running shoes.
Jamie will take on the gruelling challenge of running just over 26 miles in the hope that the money he raises by doing so can help find a cure for MND or, until that day arrives, can help to provide support for those unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with this most diabolical of diseases.
It’s now close to 34 years since Ian created his own place in football history, scoring the winning goal for Telford United at Wembley against Macclesfield Town to win the FA Trophy. To score the winner in a Wembley final is a dream few ever come close to fulfilling, but for Ian, his extra-time goal against the Silkmen was the second Wembley winner of his career.
In 1983, Ian scored the winning goal in a 1-0 FA Vase final victory for VS Rugby over Halesowen Town, so he occupies what is thought to be a unique place in football’s record books.
Ian rose to the challenge of MND, resisting it with everything he had. Alas, as things stand, the outcome of an MND diagnosis is the limiting of life in a heartbreakingly cruel way.
At any one time, around 5,000 in the UK will have MND.
The profile of MND has been raised in recent years by a number of high-profile ex-sportspeople, most notably the former Scottish rugby union international Doddie Weir, Rob Burrow, the ex-Leeds Rhinos rugby league star, and Stephen Darby, the former Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers footballer.
Each was diagnosed with MND, and Doddie Weir sadly lost his life to the disease in December 2022.
As Geoff Barrow, Rob’s father has said, “MND is not incurable, it’s underfunded”, and by taking on the London Marathon, Jamie hopes to help raise funds so that a cure is found or, until that time arrives, to ensure that support is available for those diagnosed with MND and their families, to give them all the best quality of life possible.
Jamie has been dedicating himself to training over the last few months, but admits that he’s taking a step, or a few thousand steps, into the unknown:
“I’ve never done like this, I haven’t even done a half marathon, definitely not a full marathon.”
Ironically, football had almost derailed Jamie’s earlier training:
“Yeah, sort of. I went back to playing football and then I got injured. I think I’m just too old to be playing now. I’d got up to around a half-marathon distance and that was quite comfortable. It’s been a four-month programme leading to April, so I’ve had plenty of time. There was a London Marathon in October and they actually rang me to ask if I wanted to do the October one, but I thought it might have been a little bit too soon. “
Jamie’s father isn’t his only connection to the Bucks, as he counts former Bucks captain Adam Walker as one of his oldest friends:
“We go back to primary school, right from the start, so how old? Four or five we’d have been. We played football together, growing up. We were in the same team when we were young, but then Adam went to the academy (Coventry City). It’s over 20 years, but we don’t get to see each other as much now.”
It’s Ian who has inspired Jamie’s marathon undertaking; not just to sign up to take part, but he’ll be there to push Jamie along should things get tough:
“That’s what I keep telling myself; if I am struggling, I’ll just think of him and that should get me through it. I’m sure it will. It’s a very good cause I’m sure I’ll get through and get it done.”
Whilst there will be many people who hold fond memories of his father, Jamie’s memories of Ian’s career are limited, as he explained:
“I wasn’t really about when Dad was playing at a decent level, because we were a lot younger. It always used to be me and my cousin because we were the same age, we were born on the same day, and we used to go and watch him for Coventry Sphinx. When he was at semi-professional level we didn’t get to see that, but he used to have the Wembley final on video. I remember when he used to have a drink in front of him, he’d say “You can watch the video, and I’ll teach you a few things”, Jamie laughed, “So we watched that a few times so. It had all the warm-up, the pre-match, and the actual match, it had everything on. He used to enjoy talking about it.”
There was a clear outpouring of sadness from Bucks fans when Ian lost his life to MND, because of the wonderful memory he gave them but that pales alongside the loss felt by Jamie and his sister Sophie, to whom Ian was Dad, an irreplaceable figure:
“I have people that come up to me even now asking “Are you Ian’s son?”, and he really did have a sort of big impact on a lot of people’s lives, more than I thought, more than I’d imagined. We used to do loads of things together. We had season tickets for a good 6-7 years at City (Coventry) and then we went up the Ricoh for a bit. We would play golf. He was terrible at golf, but he always thought he was good”
“When we got older, I’d play football on a Sunday, and he’d be on the sideline screaming at me, “Do this!”, or “Do that!”, he’d always be there. I think everyone liked him being there as well because he did know his football and when he would speak, everyone would listen. As a dad, it was like having a best friend too.”
Jamie recalled when he became aware that Ian was unwell:
“I was probably 14-15. When he was first getting ill, we didn’t know what it was. He would sort of slur his words, couldn’t speak, and couldn’t really walk without a limp. When we were told he would go to a specialist, we thought everything would be OK, but that’s when we were told it was MND. I didn’t know what it was, I hadn’t really heard of it, but I went to the internet and did some research. We were asking “What is it? Can it be cured?” From the reaction from the family, I knew serious it was but my mum, who was only doing the right thing, sort of sheltered us from it.”
Jamie and his family have adapted to life without Ian, but with both Jamie and his sister Sophie marrying within a couple of months of each other towards the end of 2022, there were bound to be reminders of those who were absent:
“He’d have loved it, but he’d have wanted us to have a great day. He was a big miss, but he definitely would have wanted us to party, like he would.”
“Dad loved being around people. So many people that I’ve met, his friends, said he would light up the room when he would come in. He crammed in as much life as he could, even though he had a short life, and he probably lived more than most people do; he did get the most out of life.”
To help others affected by Motor Neurone Disease get the most out of life, please consider sponsoring Jamie, and thank you.