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How an act of kindness gave Spurs fan John the 'wake-up call' to tackle cancer

Wed 13 October 2021, 12:00|Tottenham Hotspur

From one conversation, you can tell that Spurs fan John Burrows is a larger-than-life character, an engaging, ex-Army chef whose booming voice fills a room.

But times are tough at the moment.

John has been diagnosed with Merkel Cell Carcinoma, a rare, aggressive skin cancer. This diagnosis came following surgery to initially remove a cyst on his finger, and then lymph nodes from under his right arm. The next step in his treatment will be 30 sessions of radiotherapy over the next six weeks.

Naturally, John, 67, has been at a low ebb. Even during our chat, he admitted, ‘I’m hoping for the best, but planning for the worst’... sobering words that really strike a chord.

A Spurs fan since 1965, born and bred in Surrey but now living in the village of Frosterley, Weardale, about 30 miles and an hour’s drive from Newcastle, John still follows the team closely and posted on Facebook about a potential ‘bucket list’, including visiting Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for the first time.

He’s realistic about his situation, but, through these toughest of times, optimistic. And that’s down to a good deed from another Spurs fan, Joanna Eagle.

Bought a stadium tour as a present, John decided to take the train down to London to tick a few Spurs and Army boxes in the capital. But, as the weekend drew closer, he was starting to waver. Then a message from Joanna dropped on Facebook...

“I was at a low ebb, but I decided I would force myself to do things,” explained John, taking up the story. “I was very kindly bought a stadium tour as a gift. I thought, ‘I’ve got to do that’ and while I was down there, I thought might as well spend a couple of days in London, do the Imperial War Museum, HMS Belfast... I’m an ex-Army guy, so do those military things.

“But, later, I didn’t really want to do it. I was going through the motions, very down on myself. Then I had a message from Joanna, through Facebook...

“I’d asked where else I could go when I was down in London. Jo somehow picked up on all this and asked me if I wanted to go to the Manchester City match. At that point, I was ready to catch the train, so I joined One Hotspur and by the time I reached Stafford, the ticket from Joanna had come through (via Ticket Exchange).

“That was the moment that made me realise, ‘I’ve got to give this a go, I’ve got to fight’. That was my wake-up call, the fact that a total and utter stranger took something like that on board, thinking, ‘I can do this little something to help’, it really made me wake up and want to fight. I’ve got to fight for my life.

“I got to the stadium and, wow, absolutely wow. What a day! And we got a result as well! It was an awesome day. The following day, I did the tour, and I really enjoyed my two or three days. When I got back, I had this sense of elation after having such a great time and I knew I needed to thank Joanna.”

John did just that by sending flowers to her seat for the match against Chelsea. “I don’t think she realises how much what she did meant to me,” he continued. “I was sent a photo of Joanna with the flowers, that made my day. We’re now friends on Facebook. I’m trying to be as positive and upbeat as I can. I have my moments, but what she did for me has made me want to fight for what I’ve got.”

Jo, a Season Ticket Holder from St Neots, Huntingdon, didn’t think twice after reading about John’s situation on Facebook. “I found out about John on one of the fan groups,” she told us. “He posted saying that he was due to do the stadium tour, he hadn’t been before and wanted a few recommendations as to where he could watch the City game.

“People mentioned a few pubs and also to try Ticket Exchange. I was in Cornwall at the time, read that and just replied that we were away on holiday and that he could have my ticket. I messaged to reassure him it was a serious offer. I just thought, ‘go for it’ and that it would be nice if he could actually go.

“I go with my two sons, and it’s our first season as Season Ticket Holders. I used to go regularly when I was younger, a full-on fan, went to the 1991 FA Cup Final, went loads. We’d been on the waiting list and the City game would have been our first game as Season Ticket Holders! I was a bit gutted to miss it but it was really nice to know that John had a seat and was able to go. He sent me a video from my seat! I’m just so pleased he had a great time.”

It was John’s first match since the 1999 League Cup Final. “I can’t remember who took me to see Tottenham Hotspur against Blackpool in 1965,” he added. “Jimmy Greaves scored twice, we won 4-0, and that was it. Boom. I was a Spurs fan, hooked. I remember the smell that day, the smoke. All of a sudden, as a teenager, that experience, it’s ‘wow’.

“I used to regularly attend in the 1970s and 1980s, I was there for Ricky Villa’s goal in the 1981 FA Cup Final replay, I was there for the last Wembley final against Leicester City in 1999. Then I got married, had children, and that all takes over.

“What Joanna did for me changed my outlook on the issues I’ve got, and made me feel stronger inside, mentally, to be able to fight, and fight for others as well.”