On Tuesday 7th February, a year will have passed since the tragic loss of Nate Gidman, the five-year-old who bravely fought a lengthy battle with Medulloblastoma – a cancerous brain tumour.
It was a battle that brought Tranmere supporters, and the wider community together, as Nate’s father Phil told his story via social media during a time in which the globe was fighting the impact of the COVID pandemic.
‘I hope that people don’t have to go through what we went through’.
Phil explained: ‘His death was a massive loss to the family and you could feel it in the community as well, it was humbling how people responded when I broke the news. There were a lot of people championing him up until his death, there was a lot of light in the darkness which really helped’.
Nate’s smile and his willingness to play, like any other child would do, captured the hearts of everyone who was living through the story across the published tweets which would include photos and videos.
‘It was only up until his final days where he was trying to aspire to be happy, be a little kid with a spring in his step. He was more interested in playing than being sick and poorly’.
‘The care workers always said that if it was an adult they would be down but kids just want to play and that’s how he was’.
‘His strength was something to aspire to, he showed immense strength, courage and determination whilst something so vicious was growing in his head but the cancer was to win’.
As a result of Nate’s fight, he will forever be remembered, and the club’s owners ensured that this was the case by adorning their community tickets scheme with the youngster’s name.
‘Having Nate’s tickets formed was amazing. I got a call from Mark Palios and one of the first things he said was that he wanted to check-in after the noise had calmed down and that meant a lot to show that he still cares’.
‘He opened the idea to keep Nate’s name alive with the club and he said to take my time with the idea but I didn’t need to. It was a massive honour’.
‘Football continues to be a massive distraction for me as I try to navigate through the grief process, the fact that we can lend my son’s name to a scheme that does the same for others is great’.
‘It’s not just a cancer-related thing, it’s something that can help a community that I care massively about’.
It was a special moment seeing Nate on the Prenton Park pitch ahead of a Tranmere game, kicking the ball into the net and his father embracing the Kop End’s celebration for him, a moment which came mere weeks before his passing.
However, there was to be further emotion on the Wirral when Rovers forward Kane Hemmings struck in the fifth minute of a game in the same week as Nate’s death.
‘Seeing Hemmings score that goal was so special. I spoke to captain Peter Clarke after the game and he was saying that the plan was to kick the ball out of play and applaud but Hemmings did something better, it was so euphoric’.
Phil confirms that Nate’s death touched more than just Tranmere Rovers supporters, explaining how it even brought men from five-a-side teams together.
‘I received messages from random blokes and they were saying that it made them talk about their own losses. There was a guy who said that his mate opened up for the first time about his miscarriage, it came from a lot of people just being open and inspired by Nate’.
Sands United, a team formed by bereaved family members, would soon contact Phil asking him to be involved in a game raising money for CCLG, Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group.
‘When Sands got in touch it was fairly close to Nate’s passing, it was their captain Andy who is from the Wirral but lives in Colchester who asked if I wanted to play in the game. I was interested but I didn’t know whether I’d be able to assemble a team’.
Andy would later get in touch with Rover and Out, who asked Phil to play for Nate before the away game at Colchester. Phil’s excitement for the game grew when he learned more about Sands United.
‘I thought it was fantastic that they had this community, they had a group that helped them get through their issues’.
Phil lives in Lincoln thus it was a long journey, but he admits ‘It was lovely to share that moment and know they were willing to help me raise money for charity.’
‘I want to use my experiences, position, abilities and support network to help charities that help other less fortunate people. It’s really important, it’s an honour for me’.
I was quite shocked to hear the truth about the money placed into children’s fights with cancer.
‘Children get less than 4% of the budget for cancer treatments, it’s a hideous figure that may even be less. There are treatments being pioneered all the time but some treatments being used on Nate were introduced in the 1960’s, you’d be stunned if you looked into it’.
Phil explains that the game has also had a significant impact on his mental and physical health, motivating him to avoid ‘vile’ hospital food along with junk food.
‘To have my mind on the game is the carrot on the stick, to use an old cliche. This year the game will be on the same week as the anniversary of his death and through the game, me and Nicola (his wife) have made many friends to share the experience with’.
‘I got to 15 stone and I’m only a little bloke so my fitness for the game was ridiculous, I couldn’t walk for a few days after it, it was monstrous. I’m still a fat little thing but I’ve been taking some care of myself this time round so I’ll be able to hold up a little bit better’.
Before gathering some of the match details, I felt it was important to hear more about the people that Phil will be playing alongside.
‘There’ll be friends on the team, I’m having some of my friends who are based in my area who have been absolute rocks with me. One of my mates is a big Dortmund fan and he drove over to get me before we went down to Colchester together. I’ve got a friend coming up from London’.
‘I respect Sands United a lot but I do want to beat them, let’s have that clear! You can’t not respect Sands’ commitment to travel up here, it will be a competitive game’.
Despite being so out of shape, Phil managed to pop up with the winner last year.
‘It was euphoric, it finished 6-4 as both team’s forgot how to defend, there were some great scenes. I was charging down as the game was getting to an end before my mate picked me out with a blinder of a pass, it was the easiest of tap in’s. I celebrated like I had won the World Cup’.
The game this time round will be played at New Ferry Park on Saturday 11th February with a 10.30am start. There will be collection buckets with raffle prizes.
‘We hope it’s just a bit of fun. We have raised a fantastic amount of money already, around £1,600. The money will be going directly towards the CCLG group, you’re only going to get better treatments and prognosis’ with financial backing’.
It wouldn’t be right to finish off a conversation with Phil without talking about Tranmere’s chances of achieving promotion, despite their inconsistent form.
‘I’ve already booked the Play-offs weekend off, I don’t see any reason why we can’t be in and around it as I believe the issues we have seen have all been addressed carefully in the transfer window. Harvey Saunders has been great, his movement and tenacity’.
‘We can’t have any complaints now’.
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