It’s sunny this morning in Sheffield. I can’t say for sure what it was like on May 27th 2018, as Dan was still on life-support at Sheffield Children’s Hospital and our lives were in a windowless limbo. It probably was sunny though. The weather held for what seemed like months, as if, like me, the climate had gone into shock and forgotten that at some point it would need to move on to survive.
But here I am. And once again it’s also the aftermath of a major football final. Then it was Liverpool being beat by Real Madrid in the Champions League final, when I whispered scores to Dan as he lay unresponsive on a gurney, tethered to machines. Last night, Manchester United were beaten by Villareal in a match that dragged out for so long that their fans’ pain and desperation would have imitated mine. 90 minutes, 1-1. An extra 30 minutes and no change. And then penalty after penalty, hope raised and dashed twenty-one times until that final, awful, moment, when any remaining shred of optimism was whisked away like a leaf on the wind, and the ball did not reach the back of the net, the laurels of victory were not United’s, their skyscrapers of hope turned to rubble.
In truth, as a City fan, the outcome raised a mean chuckle. As Dan’s mum, though, my heart broke just a little bit more. There would have been something fairytale-like and reassuring had United lifted the trophy on the anniversary of his accident. I wanted them to win for Dan. Once again, the script I had prepared for mine and Dan’s life appears to have been overwritten by a cruel and careless hand. And the crux of the sadness is that it was the goalie that missed that final penalty. David de Gea, who’d been Dan’s hero. I didn’t want that shine to fall from Dan’s eyes, wanted to keep his faith alive, even now, even though Dan is not here.
‘Oh Dan, I’m so sorry it was de Gea that missed the penalty,’ I offered up to the empty hotel room.
Yeh, me too, Mum. Why was Solskjaer even playing his second-best goalie? Why didn’t he sub him when he knew penalties were coming? Right, Henderson has saved 47% of all penalties he’s faced in competition over that last five years and d’you know how many de Gea has saved? None. Not one. And, right, if Solskjaer had played Henderson from the start he might even have stopped that shot from Morena anyway and we’d have just won in 90 minutes…
Dan is, in my mind, very much still here.