Hospice patient and passionate Gunners fan Mark Simmonds received a huge bedside boost from his beloved club recently after a VIP visit from Arsenal legend, Bob Wilson OBE just a few days before he sadly passed away.
The former Scottish International and Gunners goalie and broadcaster, who presented TV's Football Focus, Match of the Day and Grandstand, visited our Hospice in Berkhamsted, where he spent 45 minutes chatting to 52-year-old dad Mark at his bedside.
Mark’s wife, Liz, 53, said, “Mark was absolutely thrilled to meet Bob, who had been one of his heroes since he was a lad. The two chatted like they were mates down the pub discussing Arsenal’s performance. Bob was so kind and genuine and seeing him gave him such a boost in his last week of life. He was on such a high and really couldn’t believe the Hospice had made it happen.”
Generous Bob, 74, also brought presents for a delighted Mark – a goalkeeper’s glove, signed by Bob and fellow goalkeeping legends Pat Jennings and David Seaman, and a signed photograph of Bob and then Arsenal Captain Frank McLintock collecting the FA Cup after their 1971 victory over Liverpool.
The football-focused conversation was dominated by discussions about Arsenal – from the “Invincibles” team of 2003/04 and the Gunners’ historic run of 49 unbeaten games – to Russian financing, players’ salaries (Ronaldo’s £500k a week now compared to Bob’s meagre £130 in the 70’s!) and Mark’s own playing days as a centre forward in Sunday leagues.
Mark, from Abbots Rise, Kings Langley, was only diagnosed with cancer six weeks ago. He had hoped to fulfil a dream by hiring a box to watch his beloved Arsenal play at home, however his condition deteriorated, which prevented him from travelling. As soon as Hospice staff heard about Mark’s love of Arsenal and how he wasn’t going to make it to the game, they contacted Sheryl Gascoigne, ex-wife of Paul and a former Hospice volunteer, as well as The Willow Foundation, to see if they could help.
The Willow Foundation is a charity dedicated to bringing special days to seriously ill people aged 16- 40, which Bob and his wife Megs founded in memory of their daughter Anna, who died 17 years ago aged 32 of a rare form of cancer.
It was out of the goodness of their own hearts, however, that ex-Hertfordshire residents Bob and and his wife Megs came to visit Mark, as they travelled from their home in Dorset to St Albans Cathedral for their charity’s Christmas Carol Service.
Bob said: "This was such a simple thing to do for an Arsenal fan who loves the club as much as I do. Mark was a real character and it was a privilege to meet someone who you know has been a fan all these years and to talk football. He was as big a fan as I am – he certainly knew his stuff. It was also a real eye-opener for Megs and myself to come to The Hospice of St Francis and see what an amazing job all the staff do. Everyone had a smile on their face - it was lovely."
Fellow football legend Pat Rice, MBE, a former team mate of Bob’s who made over 500 appearances for Arsenal, also heard of Mark’s love for the Gunners and paid him a visit. Pat spent over an hour at Mark’s bedside, talking about Arsenal’s past playing highlights and his own playing career.
Completing a hat trick, the thoughtful London club’s manager, Arsene Wenger, took the trouble to send Mark a letter thanking him for his support for Arsenal over the years and wishing him well.
Liz said: "I'm so grateful to Bob and Megs for showing such kindness. It gave Mark a real boost, got his energy levels back and gave him loads to talk about when people come to visit.
“The treatment and compassion Mark received while in the Hospice will bring great comfort to me in the difficult time ahead and Mark told me on several occasions how privileged he was that Bob and Pat took the time to visit him. He also said that for the first time he didn't feel like just a number and that is entirely due to the team at the Hospice who couldn't do enough for him.”
Sharon Chadwick, Medical Director at the Hospice, added, “Alongside our clinical care, the whole team at The Hospice of St Francis strives to go the ‘extra mile,’ bringing meaning and richness to the lives of people we care for at the end of life.
“We are really pleased to have been able to facilitate the visits from Bob and Pat. They obviously meant a lot to Mark and we feel privileged to have been able to make this happen at such a crucial stage of his care.”