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There’s Nothing To Celebrate With Darren Fletcher’s Illness

July 13, 2012

In the past couple of days, Manchester United player Darren Fletcher has been back in the news, as Alex Ferguson noted at a press conference that he is not close to returning to the first team squad, and the media as a whole took away from the conference the feeling that he is unlikely to ever play again, as Ferguson added that he will always have a role at the club. All this refers to Fletcher’s nine-month battle with a chronic bowel condition, colitis.

So, a key player for a direct competitor may never play again, so this is good news for Manchester City fans like me, yes? Well, no, of course it isn’t.

Football can do horrible things to you. It can make you act in a manner you would never deem acceptable away from the sport. It makes you insulting, provocative, aggressive, and it wishes disease, drought, pestilence and swarms of locusts on your enemies. I’ve seen friends act inside a football stadium as if they have been possessed by Satan himself. We’ve all said some nasty things.

The hypocrisy within us all though when it comes to football leaves me in an awkward position. Because when you are in direct competition with certain teams, be it for a title, promotion, or a needs to avoid relegation, key injuries to rivals’ players are good for your team. But can you really revel in pain and anguish for other human beings? Plenty seem perfectly comfortable with it of course, but I can’t. A niggling injury is fine, you tell yourself. Something that keeps a player out for a key game, but no longer. Wayne Rooney missing the FA Cup semi-final for swearing into a TV camera was nothing short of hilarious. But the serious stuff can never be celebrated. Not even for Joey Barton.

Darren Fletcher is not a glamour player, a world star, but he has been crucial to United’s success over recent years. It doesn’t matter how good he is anyway. The illness he has is debilitating, a horrible, cruel condition that not only affects his ability to play football, but has ravaged his entire quality of life. I wouldn’t wish it on my worse enemies, and I cannot begin to fathom what he is going through.

Of course his illness has predictably led to the usual round of jokes relating to stomachs and faecal matter – you have probably seen a few yourself. You’ve probably laughed too. I’m not trying to take any high moral ground here – we’ve all laughed at “sick” jokes, and passed them on to friends, and comedians themselves will defend the right to gain laughter from some very dark areas of life.

But in stark terms, Fletcher’s illness is no laughing matter, for anyone. And it’s not just the quality of life that’s at stake either. Most footballers want nothing more than to play football – Winston Bogarde excepted. Having that option removed at an early age, or even when expected can be hard to take, and hard to cope with. Only this week Darren Eadie spoke in the Independent of the depression that hung over him after his career was cut short, as did Paul Lake in his excellent autobiography.

I hope Manchester United suffer terribly over the next few years. I hope their form falters, they drop out of the “Top Four”, I hope their best players leave, the Glazer debt envelops the club, and the attendances dwindle. I hope for relegation and a fall so dramatic they have to play in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. But more than that I hope Darren Fletcher makes a full recovery and has a full career ahead of him.

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