PERSPECTIVE… a word so often flung around the sporting world with reckless abandon, like a hollow cliché in a dead-end political debate. Not this week.
The last seven days have taught us, as a footballing community, the true definition of perspective – a lesson that stretches well beyond the over-simplified barriers of post-match press conferences and throwaway headlines.
This week Swindon lost a respected son and Peterborough came close to a tragedy of its own, and two very isolated, very different incidents illustrate succinctly the humanistic side of an industry which often forsakes its roots in favour of corporate spin or a sizeable payday.
On Tuesday morning I, like the rest of you, learnt of the tragic death of Dave Turner. In the grand scheme of the global juggernaut ‘Football’ his passing, at the age of 52, could have been marked by a cursory glance, a doffing of a cap and a moment’s remembrance.
But that would have been wrong. So wrong.
Dave epitomised the grass roots face of the sport; an unmoisturised, unadvertised face that is too often masked in favour of eight-figure contracts, transfer fees reaching into the umpteenzillions and news of celebrity flings which have no relevance to society in general.
Dave Turner was a behemoth in the footballing world. He never reached idol status, he wasn’t recruited to front Pepsi’s latest TV initiative and, to the best of my knowledge, he never came close to signing for Real Madrid, but he inspired the children of a generation so close to him to get active, learn the love of the game and – for a couple of training sessions a week – submerge themselves in the sport he adored.
On Wednesday, in these pages, my colleague Ned Payne wrote beautifully about Dave’s character. He was forthright, accessible, willing to speak his mind – base qualities which modern, professional football, overcome by its own self-obsession, has cast aside like the half-pint of milk lost at the back of the fridge.
As I scrolled through my social media accounts this week I saw dozens of tributes to a man who worked night and day to give the kids and young adults in his charge the best possible opportunity to express themselves on a football pitch. I read summaries of how he earned the money he needed to pay for Wroughton youngsters' kit, I came across stories of one Wiltshire man making one heck of a difference.
Let’s be honest, Dave’s outlook is what football is really about. It’s not about deadline day moves from Cardiff to Stoke, it’s not about kiss-and-tell stories on the front of red-tops, it’s not about pointless spats between local papers and their clubs. Purely and simply, it’s about a love of the game.
When I joined the Advertiser’s sportsdesk for the first time in 2009, Dave was one of the first contacts I made as a journalist. He was charming, honest and insightful. I left the Adver in 2011, returned a year later and, when I came back, he hadn’t changed a jot. Frankly, I doubt he ever would have changed at all.
Men like Dave are the foundation on which community football is run. While the aspiration for greatness will always exist, the ability to inspire at a local level is a remarkable quality that can only be admired.
Swindon is poorer without him.
Within two days of Dave’s passing I was reporting from London Road when a fan collapsed during Swindon Town’s clash with Peterborough United.
It may have been the first leg of a contest from which the winner would earn the right to line up at Wembley but in an instant the sport became unimportant.
I will forever remember Danny Swanson catching the ball in midfield, as Posh fans chanted ‘stop the game’ from the home terrace. I will forever remember the silence afforded to the brilliant paramedics as they made sure the supporter in question, Ray Stratton, would live to know the final score. I will forever remember the sombre atmosphere when the players returned as the home crowd clung on to hopes and prayers for a man they’d never met.
That’s what football is about. Community, togetherness of spirit, unexplained bonds. Ray lives to fight another day and that is worth celebrating more than the winning goal in next week’s second leg.
Dave won’t get to see his beloved Swindon Town at Wembley, should they reach next month’s final, but I’m sure he’ll be well represented when Peterborough visit the County Ground a week on Monday. Rest in peace, mate, and be assured you’ll never be forgotten.