Total Pageviews

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


The football world was shocked and dismayed at the sudden collapse of Bolton Wanderers’ Fabrice Muamba during the FA Cup quarter-final tie against Spurs on St. Patrick’s Day, which resulted in him reportedly suffering from a cardiac arrest. Happily, the 23-year-old DRC Congolese-born player is showing encouraging signs of progress, although it remains to be seen if he will ever recover enough to play professional football again. It is hoped that, at least, he shall recover enough from his ordeal to lead a normal life.

The by now (at times tackily) well-documented story of Muamba’s ordeal, and that of Aston Villa’s Bulgarian ex-international Stillian Petrov, who was more recently diagnosed with acute leukaemia (and good luck to him in dealing with it), really should put football, and the nonsense which frequently surrounds it, in its proper place in the pecking-order of life, as the subject of this particular blog most certainly does.

Pat’s Football Blog, meanwhile, has covered many subjects related to the world of football, from the world's remotest football club (Tristan da Cunha FC) to the goalposts used in the deciding game of the 1950 World Cup, through to all the fun of the FIFA fair. Time for a first for this blog, though; time to cover something which is as far removed from the parallel and often unreal world of football as it can get - the story of a young boy's struggle to walk, one which is rapidly turning into a race against time.

BRAVE..Billy Douglas

Three-year-old Billy Douglas lives in the quiet Northern Irish town of Ballygowan, and is a bright, happy youngster, who suffers from Spastic Diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy which can affect the arms, but more commonly affects the legs. In Billy's case, Spastic Diplegia left him unable to move his legs or feet.

Billy was first diagnosed with the condition at a year old after his mother Savien brought him to Belfast's Musgrave Park Hospital when it became apparent that he failed to begin crawling or walking. Savien and husband William were shattered to learn that Billy had been diagnosed with brain-damage.

The couple have two healthy children, teenage daughter Catherine and seven-year-old Robert, but the Douglas family had been shadowed by tragedy even before Billy's birth. In 2003, Savien and William's first son, also called William, was born.

Sadly, baby William died just after birth from a condition called Potter's Syndrome (also known as Renal Agenesis), which happens when the baby, whilst in the womb, has no kidneys, and this means that without said organs, the unborn child cannot produce amniotic fluid in the womb. This, in turn, restricts lung development in the baby. Many babies with Potter's Syndrome are still-born; those which are born alive almost invariably die within a couple of days of being delivered. William was born without a bladder or kidneys.

Then, in 2006, the family were dealt another cruel blow when another son, Charlie, was still-born. The deaths of both children, and Billy's current health problems, would be shattering blows for any family, but the Douglas family are determined to ensure that their youngest child will have a bright future.

Savien and William were told by doctors at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald (East Belfast) that they were unable to operate on Billy, and were instead advised to consider a process called Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy, which involves cutting the nerves at the base of the spine. 

The operation is not available in Northern Ireland, and was scheduled to have been carried out in the United States city of St. Louis, but, the couple have recently received news that there is a surgeon in the south-western English city of Bristol who may be willing to carry out the operation. However, the operation, whether carried out in St. Louis or Bristol, together with corrective physiotherapy, does not come cheap. The operation and physiotherapy combined will, Savien and William estimate, cost in the region of £50000.

For the Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy operation to be have any chance of success, any child with Spastic Diplegia would have to undergo it somewhere between their second and fourth birthday. Billy will be four years old in September. 

The clock, then, is ticking for the brave youngster, and for his fundraising campaign, the Help Billy Walk Appeal, which, in less than a year, due to some superb fundraising events, ranging from concerts to Savien and company abseiling down the front of Belfast’s Europa Hotel, has raised an admirable £40000, to the immense credit of one and all involved. To get Billy walking is the campaign's first target; any excess monies raised will go towards the creation of a holiday-home in Northern Ireland for kids with cerebral palsy.

One of the simplest descriptions of cerebral palsy can be found on the Scope website (Scope is a UK-based organisation, and its website address is:

"Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects muscle control and movement. It is usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during or after birth.

"Children with cerebral palsy have difficulties in controlling muscles and movements as they grow and develop."

The Help Billy Walk Appeal is an entirely voluntary operation; Savien and a host of friends are running the campaign. There is no paid CEO taking charge, nor will you see any Children In Need-style adverts on telly for this one; cerebral palsy (still less Spastic Diplegia) is definitely not a "sexy" disease - it affects roughly 1 in 500 children, according to some NHS estimates dating back to 1997 - nor is it something in which the present British government (or many other governments across Europe) would be terribly interested, if current trends are anything to go by.

After all, they've left the disabled, the elderly and the vulnerable out to dry and to more or less fend for themselves over the past few years. So, in place of a government which doesn't really have the interests of the less-fortunate at heart, the onus is on the general public to do what it can. 

In this case, it means helping one young boy towards having a viable future, and could end up helping many more like him. No chance of Fearne Cotton or Gary Lineker dropping by to lend a hand, much less the Department of Health releasing funds to pay for Billy's operation and further assistance, unfortunately, but the Help Billy Appeal is certainly in full-swing regardless of the lack of any major backing. However, it must be stressed that time is running out for Billy to have his operation.

Dear reader, wherever you are in the world, your help would be gratefully received, be it financial or merely passing on the link at the end of this article to, for instance, your local football team - or, indeed, their supporters' club - and requesting their assistance.

If you are someone who writes a blog, why not post the link to this blog - or the link to the appeal - on your blog and earn some brownie points? (Please drop this scribe a line, if at all possible, if you are planning on doing so, or, better still, raising money for the appeal, preferably by leaving a message on Pat's Football Blog's Facebook page.) Good publicity for your blog, good publicity for the Help Billy Walk Appeal. Everybody wins.

If you are able to donate, any amount of money (pounds sterling, preferably), be it £1 or £1000, would be a help and, at the same time, greatly appreciated. (Details of how to pay can be found on the appeal’s website, via the bottom of this article.) It would be, financially, more valuable than the Jimmy Glass goal which kept Carlisle United in the Football League. It would mean more than the Crouchmeister's winner for Spurs against Man City the season before last which put Harry’s boys into the Champions' League. It would mean, in all sorts of ways, an immeasurable amount to a family, and a young boy, who are all due some good fortune.

Please follow the link to the Help Billy Walk Appeal website - the appeal also has its own Facebook page -  which includes not only news on fundraising activities and information on Billy and his condition, but how to donate (via trusty old Paypal) to what is a very deserving cause:

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Any factual errors contained within the above blog, while unintentional, are the responsibility of the author and the author alone.

An update on how the appeal is progressing will be posted in May. 


  1. Brilliant blog for Billy. I am an avid supporter of the Help Billy Walk Appeal and hope that this will get more attention for the family. :-)

  2. Pat's Football BlogMay 1, 2012 at 1:59 AM

    Thanks very much, Anonymous. (Post the blog on your FB page and encourage your friends to do the same! Any publicity, even this half-baked article, has to be of help..) I think that it's an admirable cause and I'm glad that things are going well as far as I can tell. Fingers crossed that Billy will get his operation very soon!