APRIL 1, 2016, will be a date that goalkeeper Declan Lehmann and the rest of his family will never forget.

Sat on a stool in the kitchen of his family home in Swindon, you’d be surprised from looking at the confident, well-spoken teenager that his life had been flipped on its head little more than two years ago.

Our teenage years are probably the most difficult we will ever go through and with Declan deep in preparation for his GCSEs, as well as plotting his fledgling football career among the youth ranks at Swindon Town, little did he know that the exam papers he would be staring at in the sports hall at St Joseph’s would be the last of his worries.

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Declan Lehmann is the first player in Forest Green Rovers’ history to sign a full two-year academy scholarship, after his recovery from cancer

Having suffered from chest pains, Declan went to hospital to have a regular check-up, with doctors at the time suspecting it to be pleurisy - an inflammation of the tissue between the lungs and the ribcage.

However, on the morning of his first GCSE mock exam, Declan’s family got a phone call from the hospital asking for him to come for further checks.

His dad Markus was able to postpone the visit by a day, allowing his son to focus on the exam before heading to Great Western Hospital the following morning.

It was not a drawn-out process. Within hours of going in for an MRI scan, Declan and family were told the news no parent wants to hear about their children - he had cancer.

“When I got told about it, they said they just wanted to get on with it as soon as possible and I had the same mindset at the time,” explained Declan, when asked to recollect how he felt when he was hit with the news.

“I didn’t want it dragging out too long so my football career would be over.

“Obviously, at that point, you put everything to one side and think about your health but it was always in the back of my head that I wanted to be back playing football and I think that helped me through and acted as a driving force for me.”

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Declan, pictured here with the charity’s Richard Crowley, has his gloves sponsored by Swindon-based charity CALM

It was at the age of seven that Declan first joined up with his boyhood club, Swindon, to embark on his chosen career of being a goalkeeper.

However, it was not with a ball but with a puck that the now 17-year-old first had his palms stung.

It was in the kitchen of their family home that Declan first got a passion for keeping a clean sheet, with his dad, who had played ice hockey for Swindon Panthers, raining down shots in the temporary goal they had set up.

It wasn’t long before Declan’s friends were inviting him to play for their local team, Greenmeadow, and after a couple of seasons, he was soon catching the eye of scouts from local academy sides.

With the talent clearly shining through, Markus called Swindon academy manager Jeremy Newton on the off-chance of getting his son the opportunity to impress at his hometown club.

That is exactly what he did, joining Town at the age of seven.

It was a memorable time for Declan in the red and white of Swindon, winning the Cayman Island Youth Cup and saving the match-winning penalty against Everton to lift the Salver Cup at the Milk Cup in 2014.

However, things came to a shuddering halt for the teenager in December 2015, just days after one of his most noteworthy performances in between the sticks for Swindon’s youth side.

“The week before we had a game against Arsenal and we beat them as well, so I was enjoying my football so much,” he explained.

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Declan (bottom left) pictured with dad Markus Lehmann (top left) at Swindon Link Centre

“I think I was on track for a scholarship and then to hear that news, it was probably the worst thing to hear at that stage and at that age as well, I had my GCSEs coming up, it was my last year at school.”

The support circle around Declan at the time of his diagnosis was significant, from Alan McLoughlin, manager of Swindon Town’s U18s, to Ms Still, a geography teacher at St Joseph’s, where Declan went to school, who used her own time on a Saturday morning to give him two hours of tutoring for his exams at home, having stopped going to school whilst undergoing chemotherapy.

Not to mention the effort put in by then Swindon Town goalkeeping coach Steve Hale, who continues to be a support for the teenager.

“He raised a lot of money for CALM and we’re still doing things to raise money for them,” said Declan.

“He was always checking how I was and would get me down to the Swindon games whenever I could and he was still involving me in the football, despite me not being able to play.”

After months of painful chemotherapy, which left him physically drained, it was on April 1, 2016, that Declan got the phone call he has been waiting for.

Sat at home on his own, the phone rang.

“The main consultant in Oxford asked if it was Declan, I said, ‘yeah,’ and she said ‘you’ve got the all clear and next week we will take your Hickman line out’,” he recalled.

“That was it.

“I honestly thought I was dreaming. I didn’t know what was going on in my head. I don’t think I even said anything on the phone, I just sat there in shock.

“Straight away, I phoned everyone and told everyone and it was a huge weight off my shoulders.”

Declan could now go back to focussing on his one true love in life, football, and was fortunate to be handed a one-year schoolboy contract by Swindon for him to get his fitness back.

While it took a while for the young stopper to get up to speed, chemo fatigue meaning that he would tire quicker than the other lads, it wasn’t long before he was featuring for the U18s under McLoughlin.

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Swindon Town goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux (right) showed his support for Declan’s cancer fight during the 2015-16 season

Declan was offered another schoolboy contract at the end of last season, but that would have led to him changing his education plans.

An offer came in from nearby Forest Green Rovers to be their first player in the club’s history to sign up to a full two-year academy scholarship, which includes a study programme at Stroud College, doing a B Tech level three course as well as studying for his level two coaching badges.

Now Declan has all eyes on the future, with a reinvigorated passion for life and a desire to make the most of his chance in football, with a newly-found edge that could help him go all the way.

“It honestly feels like a different life,” he said, with his latest results coming back negative.

“It’s always going to be there in my memory but, I don’t know, you just forget about it and it feels like something that is not associated with me now.

“I definitely think I am stronger as a result. Before something like that, you take everything for granted, just being there, playing football.

“Since I have been at Forest Green, I am just enjoying it.

“Now, when some of the other boys moan about being tired and other parts of the game, I’m just relishing it because this is what I always wanted to do.

“I want to be playing football at the highest level I can.”

Those touched by Declan’s story can support CALM by donating to Markus’ collection as he aims to take on the Monster Race at Charlton Park on September 30. Donate here: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/markus-lehmann1?utm_id=121