17 May 2017

Stroke story behind Sheffield fans’ football fundraiser

One of the men behind the city’s biggest footballing fundraiser is raising cash for Sheffield Hospitals Charity, to support the stroke team who treated him.

Steve Atkins, aged 61, from Wadsley Bridge, organises the annual Sheffield Fans Derby with his son, Iain, which pitches rival football fans of the two main teams against each other in a sponsored battle to earn the city’s soccer bragging rights.

But this year’s event holds special significance for Steve because money raised will go to enhance patient services at the stroke unit at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

Steve said: “I was incredibly busy but enjoying life, then one day out of the blue I started to feel strange. I couldn’t concentrate, I didn’t feel like my speech was right and I couldn’t control or kick a ball. After a few days I went to the GP, who referred me to the stroke unit at the hospital to be checked.

“My wife and I went to the hospital the next morning. I remember it was strange to be there on a Saturday morning as it was very quiet and I should have been playing football. I had a scan to check my arteries, which was normal, however the brain scan showed problems. A doctor showed me a picture of my brain with a lot of white spaces on it.

“The largest area was on one side of the brain, where my speech centres were and on the other side a smaller area where my mobility functions were. I was told I’d have to stay in hospital for a couple of days for monitoring because of what they had found.

“The staff were exceptional, but busy, and the other patients were quite a lot older so after a weekend in hospital I was happy to go home. That was when the impact hit me.

“My writing had become almost illegible, I couldn’t say what I wanted and I began stuttering. Whilst I was lucky I hadn’t lost the use of a limb, I found that I couldn’t coordinate kicking a football which was hard as playing football is one of my biggest passions in life. I struggled and for a few weeks hid away.

“However I’m a resilient character and believe in getting on with things. There was an excellent ‘in home’ stroke support team who worked with me on my speech, writing and physiotherapy. They provided advice and support but I was told it could take up to two years, if at all, to get my coordination back to be able to play football like I did.

“After 10 weeks I went back to work and a year on I’m slowly improving. My writing is still awful unless I go very slowly and concentrate hard. My speech is ok in general conversation, but I have times where I can’t find the words to say what I want and still stutter occasionally. Football still frustrates me.

“There was no warning that I was going to have a stroke. I’m relatively young, I was pretty fit playing football three times a week, as well as going to the gym. I don’t smoke and drink moderately on a weekend. What is most frustrating is that I’m still the same person as before, it just takes a lot more effort to do what I always did.

“Last year’s Fans Derby was very close to the stroke and I wasn’t able to take part. I’m still not ready to be to be able to play in this year’s event, but it gives me a target to try and play next year. I will be there to support the event and hope everyone gets behind their respective team and give generously. May the best team on the day win?”

Sheffield Fans Derby is an annual 11-a-side football match played between fans of Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United. Each player pays a registration fee to enter and has to raise a minimum amount in sponsor money.

This year marks the event’s tenth year and gives Blades and Owls supporters the chance to claim the city’s footballing bragging rights.

Organisers have already raised more than £19,700 for several Sheffield Hospitals Charity appeals over the last six years (from a total of £37000 raised over nine years for other local charities) and from this year have decided to make it their nominated charity of choice to help continue its work to enhance patient services across the city.

This year’s event will take place on May 22nd at Sheffield United Football Club. To get involved as a supporter visit www.sheffieldfansderby.co.uk

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