Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers legends Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Danny Mills, James Hayter and Paul Green join battling former cancer patient in charity football match at Keepmoat Stadium
Aged 15, Connor Steel was just like every other sports loving teenager.
Connor, from Askern, Doncaster, loved to play football every day and to see his friends.
But in August, 2013, his life was turned upside down – when he was diagnosed with cancer. He was taken into Sheffield Children’s Hospital to start treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
He battled the disease and was initially given the all clear in March 2014.
He battled his way through his GCSEs, despite having only 54 per cent attendance because of his illness, achieving two Bs five Cs and a D.
But he relapsed in September 2014 – and his life was saved when younger brother Alex, now aged 18, provided matching bone marrow for a transplant.
Battler Connor fought the disease again. He is well again, but there is another year until he can be said to be in full remission.
During the time he has been ill, he has been moved by some of the support he has had. He feels closer than ever to brother Alex, now aged 18, after the lifesaving bone marrow transplant
But he was also moved by the help and support offered by the Eve Merton Dreams Trust, the Doncaster charity which works to create special events for those suffered from cancer.
In Connor’s case, the charity arranged for him to spend a day with his footballing heroes from Manchester United. They took him from Doncaster to the club’s training ground, putting him up in a club hotel near the club’s Old Trafford stadium.
He met players including his hero, Juan Mata, and the then manager Louis Van Gaal.
The work of the charity is something he never forgot – and this month he is helping pay them back by taking part in a charity football match to raise cash for their work, alongside a number of big name footballers including former England World Cup star Danny Mills.
Connor said: “It was a really tough time. I have been a boy loved to be out playing football. They told me I had this illness and was going to be immobile for a couple of years.
“It was devastating at the time, and I had treatment for three years in total. I had a bone marrow transplant in December 2014, and the said I as OK again.
“I think the transplant has made my and Alex closer – he played a big part in keeping me alive.”
During his time in hospital, his mum and dad were told about the Eve Merton Trust, by a nurse working at the hospital.
It was his mum who asked if they could arrange a meeting with United – and to Connor’s delight, it worked out.
He said: “It was in April 2105 that they took my to meet the players, and it played a crucial part in me getting to where I am now. I was down at the time, and it didn’t feel there was much going for me. Then you see these people talking to you, your footballing heroes, telling you that you're amazing for the way you are handling what you are going through – it boosts your confidence. Without that, I just wouldn’t have felt like getting up.
“When I was getting better, I decided I really wanted to do something to help give something back to the charity.
“Its volunteers never forgot me and keep in touch now to see how I am.”
Connor now runs a football coaching school, running coaching session across Doncaster.
He has signed up to play for the Eve Merton Trust’a Doncaster Rovers vs Leeds Utd Legends match at the Keepmoat Stadium on Saturday May 25. It sees a mix of fans and former professionals on the pitch raising money for the charity. Already over £20,000 has been pledged in ticket sales and sponsorships.
The event doesn’t just provide a football spectacle though, the event also provides opportunities for Family Fun including inflatables, comic book characters, and games
The big names players taking part include former England full back Danny Mills and the former Chelsea and Netherlands striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Rovers stars include James Hayter, who scored the Rovers goal that beat Leeds in the play-off final in 2008, and goalkeeper Andy Warrington, who helped take the club back into the league and win the Third Division title the following year.
Fans ready to line up with their heroes
Rovers fans are set to line up shoulder to shoulder with their heroes at the match at the Keepmoat Stadium on May 25.
This week they got together for a training session at Astrea Academy Woodfield, in Balby.
Among them was Daniel Pearson, from Balby. Daniel is a Rovers fan who is raising around £1,000 in sponsorship to play. By day, he works at a wood mill in Armthorpe making furniture for Next.
He said: “I’ve been a fan all my life – I went to my first match aged three or four, and I’m 30 now. I’m really looking forward to playing in the same team as Paul Green – I used to watch him a lot when I was growing up.
“My grandfather died of cancer – so it means a lot to me to be raising money for a charity which helps those who are touched by that illness.”
Among those he will line-up against in the game, also taking part in the session at Balby, is Leeds fan and dad of three Michael Smith, from Scawthorpe.
His family has also been touched by cancer, as his partner’s mum died of the illness. He said he wished he had known about the Even Merton Dreams Trust when his mother in law was alive, as they may have helped her.
The 33-year-old works as an engineer for the firm Stroma.
He added: “My daughters are Leeds fans and I think they will be looking to get some autographs. I think I’ll be in awe when I meet people like Ian Harte, who I used to watch as a child.”
Rovers v Leeds Legends ticket prices are £5 for adults, £3 for children £10 for family tickets for two adults and two children.
Events start at 12noon with a 2pm kick off.