‘BORN 27th October. Taken by the angels on the 29th. Sleep tight son.’
A cacophony of noise reverberated around the Keepmoat Stadium on Tuesday night after the announcer read out the above message.
Forget a hushed silence to commemorate the brief life of recently-born baby son Luey, Doncaster Rovers striker Billy Sharp requested a minute’s applause before the Championship fixture with Middlesbrough.
Both sets of players stood in the centre circle and paid tribute to Sharp, who fought back the tears.
Former Republic of Ireland international turned media pundit Matt Holland posted on Twitter: “Thoughts are with Billy Sharp and his wife tonight after losing two-day old son. Very brave to play.”
A lesser footballer would have made himself unavailable for selection but Sharp told manager Dean Saunders the day before he was ready to play. His decision captured the hearts of the football fraternity. Sharp wanted to play for his son, his family and for Rovers.
Saunders said: “He wanted to score a goal for his son and his family and I couldn’t refuse. It tells you a lot about the man and what he thinks about the club and his team-mates.”
Given the captain’s armband by Saunders, Sharp proudly led the team out on to the pitch, determined to help the club climb away from the bottom of the table.
It was scripted, after the turbulent couple of days he and his family had been through, that Sharp would find the net and he duly delivered. The left foot volley which flew past the helpless Jason Steele was arguably the finest goal of his career. It was a piece of individual brilliance. It is a moment he will treasure forever.
The euphoria was clear to see as Sharp raced towards the Rovers supporters and then lifted up his shirt to reveal a message on his vest with the slogan ‘That’s For You Son.’ His team-mates joined in the congratulations. With both arms, Sharp pointed to the heavens. He dedicated the sublime strike to Luey.
“My goal tonight was the most important goal of my career dedicated to my brave boy Luey Jacob Sharp,” he wrote on Twitter. “I love u son sleep tight.
“To captain the side tonight was an honour and a pleasure. I was crying [during] the minute’s applause. Thanks to both sets of fans.
“My goal had to be something special tonight for my special boy. I’m so proud of him, and his mum.”
Darren Deadman, the referee, deserves special praise for choosing not to book Sharp for his celebration. Common sense prevailed.
Ultimately, Middlesbrough secured the three points but Sharp’s show of courage made the result irrelevant.