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'Kenny Dalglish was a legend of the game... He was there to support us and Seán in any way he could'

Martina Cox on her husband’s struggle and the kindness it inspired in others.

Kenny Dalglish (file pic).
Kenny Dalglish (file pic).
Image: EMPICS Sport

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from With Hope in Your Heart – The Seán Cox Story by Martina Cox with Susan Keogh.

As April came to an end and a new month began, Seán’s medical team was hoping to begin the process of waking Seán up. This was the next step; it was what needed to happen to provide us with more information.

His doctors were describing his brain injury as ‘profound’ but I didn’t really know what that meant. Everything moved very slowly, there was a lot of second-guessing, but Seán needed to be awake for us to find out just how badly injured he was.

We set up a WhatsApp group to help us communicate everything that was happening in Liverpool with our family and close friends at home. We called it ‘Seán’s Recovery’ and as the days went on we used it as a way of planning visits by different family members. Seán’s sisters and brothers came to visit as did mine, along with some of our close friends.

Waking Seán up involved very slowly weaning him off the ventilator, which was helping him to breathe. We wouldn’t know if he could breathe on his own until they attempted this. One message into the group read, ‘Spoke to Professor Eldridge earlier this morning, thankfully Seán’s swelling has decreased, and Tuesday is still the day they hope to be able to start the process of waking Seán.’

The next day Jack posted, ‘Another stable night for Dad, comfortable and strong, which is what we need, another day closer.’

My good friend Denise, who I knew from working at Dunnes Stores, also came to Liverpool to see Seán and to support me. ‘Hi all, Denise here, I’m with Martina and Jack today, the doctors scanned Seán, they are going to start withdrawing sedation and insert a tracheostomy to help Seán’s breathing, as we all know withdrawing sedation can take days so we will let you all know how it goes.’

The messages continued day in, day out as we waited for something to happen.

One entry, posted 5 May 2018 by Richard, stands out. It was a photograph of a Liverpool jersey with the caption, ‘Present from King Kenny for Seán, a true gent’.

A few days before, Tony Barrett from Liverpool FC had contacted me to say that Kenny Dalglish wanted to visit me to offer his support.

I know very little about soccer in general or about the history of Liverpool, but I didn’t spend 30 years of my life with Seán and not take some of it in.

Kenny Dalglish was a legend of the game of football. Jack filled in the gaps for me. He was a former player and manager at Liverpool and Glasgow Celtic. He had been capped over a hundred times for Scotland and had scored 172 times during his time at Liverpool. He was one of Seán’s sporting heroes. I knew he had been knighted for his role in advocating for the victims of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, which had claimed the lives of 96 people. He was certainly royalty in this area.

I agreed to meet him, but I wanted to do so privately – I was sure people would recognise him at the hospital and I didn’t want there to be any fuss, so we arranged to meet at the Home from Home accommodation, which was much quieter.

Jack and Richard were in Liverpool at the time visiting Seán so the three of us made our way to a little café at the side of the accommodation. He pulled up outside and came in to greet us. We had just introduced ourselves when the girl working behind the counter spotted him and went into a tailspin. She ran over to the table. ‘What can I get you, Kenny?’ she asked, ignoring the rest of us.

He ordered a cappuccino and waited for her to take our order, but she just ran back behind the counter to get his coffee. We all started laughing. What an ice-breaker! Our quiet, private coffee didn’t go to plan.

Nearly everyone who walked by recognised him, people stopped to say hello and some of them even asked for photographs. Despite the interruptions we spent about an hour with him. He told us how sorry he was about what had happened to Seán. He said he was disgusted at the brutality of the attack and that he was there to support us and Seán in any way he could.

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Before we parted, he gave me one of his jerseys for Seán, which I found really touching. I felt he was personally very troubled by what had happened and his concern for Seán and for us as a family was very genuine.

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It wasn’t the only jersey that had exchanged hands. Liverpool FC had asked for a St Peter’s GAA jersey to hang in the players’ dressing room in Anfield in honour of Seán.

Fergus McNulty from the club had flown over to see Seán and had brought one with him, travelling to Anfield to hand it over. It was hung beside Mo Salah’s shirt ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League match with Stoke City a few days later.

Liverpool FC manager Jürgen Klopp gave a press conference before the match. Wearing a tricolour badge, he said what had happened to Seán ‘should never have happened and highlighted the ugly side of football’.

A few days later the team travelled to Rome for the second leg of the Champions League Semi-final with Roma. They lost that game, but it didn’t matter: they had made it through to the final on aggregate – they had a greater number of goals overall.

As the celebrations erupted in the Stadio Olimpico, the captain, Jordan Henderson, paraded a banner around the pitch dedicated to Seán.

It was there because of the Liverpool supporters’ group, Spirit of Shankly, and two die-hard Reds fans, Stephen Monahan and Peter Carney. Since the 70s Peter has made all the banners that people see on the Kop in Anfield. He was actually a survivor of the Hillsborough disaster. What he saw that day at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield stayed with him, and over the years he has campaigned for justice for the victims and their families.

Stephen Monahan asked Peter to make a banner for Seán and he agreed. It read ‘Seán Cox, You’ll Never Walk Alone’ but not just in English. He had also written it as Gaeilge and in Italian too. The sentence ‘Ní shiúlfaidh tú i d’aonar go deo’ was etched across the fabric as a nod to Seán’s other love, the GAA.

Marty later told me that it had been Peter Carney’s birthday in the week running up to the Rome game. He had stayed up all night to finish it, putting a huge amount of work into it.

Stephen Monahan then managed to get it to the players just before they flew out to Rome. Those gestures went over my head at the time because all I could do was focus on Seán but sometimes, now, I think back, and I’m amazed at the kindness we were shown.

On 9 May Jack posted another message in the WhatsApp group, ‘Nurses are happy with Dad who is now doing some breathing by himself,’ followed by an update from Shauna a few days later: ‘Just out from Dad, nurses are happy with him and his breathing, he is also responding to some touch, Professor says it’s baby steps at the minute, and we need to take it day by day.’

We documented every little detail: the first time Seán was put into a sitting position in the bed, the first time he moved his arm ever so slightly, the first time his eyes flickered. They were the smallest milestones but at the time they were massive.

We had come from a place of thinking Seán might not make it so each tiny development took on huge significance for us and for our close circle, who were receiving the messages at home. I sometimes look back on those WhatsApp messages from Seán’s time in The Walton Centre.

On the bad days they remind me of how far he has come. Some of them are harder to read than others. One update from Shauna read, ‘Dad off the ventilator for four hours last night, going good, Mr Stubborn hasn’t opened his eyes yet.’

A few days later Emma let everyone know that Seán was having a sleepy day: ‘Dad tired today, overdid it yesterday, he did try to open his eyes, tomorrow is another day.’ That in a way sums up how we ended each day at The Walton Centre. Hoping tomorrow would bring something more.

With Hope in Your Heart – The Seán Cox Story by Martina Cox with Susan Keogh is published by Gill Books. More info here.

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