By Tony Dewhurst
DANNY Shaw enjoyed a dream day when he starred for non-league minnows Marine against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup third round.
However, days later he faced the greatest challenge of his life, caring for sick Covid-19 patients.
Tony Dewhurst met the former Tranmere defender who is now a physiotherapist working for the NHS.
The Professional Footballers’ Association part-funded funded his University course.
DANNY Shaw walked to work in the early Spring sunshine through the deserted streets of Liverpool and towards the city’s main hospital deep in thought.
“I was thinking about a patient I’d spoken to the day before on the ward,” recalled Danny.
“We had talked about ordinary stuff, a bit about what I was doing with my football, the news and family.
“They seemed to be getting better, so I was thankful for that.
“When I arrived, the patient had gone. There was another name on the chart.
“Another sick person in that bed space.
“That hit me very hard and it happened quite a lot.
“You do question yourself because was it normal to be able to move on from that person’s passing, somebody you had formed a bond with, to be able to help another patient.”
Then he averted his gaze and looked into the middle distance before adding: “I had to shield myself.
“You had to because every day you would see people on that thin border line, between life and death.
“The struggling. The breathing. The masks. The bleeping machines.
“That is part of life in intensive care, but nothing could have prepared me for it.
“The reality of people dying and that is a very challenging environment to be in.
“I had never worked in a hospital, but when I was exposed to it, I was determined to meet that challenge.
“I do see people differently now because I’ve changed as a person.”
There were many others who got well again, the courageous doctors, nurses and carers like 25-year-old Danny who have had to keep calm and carry on while most of us have been able to shelter from the storm.
“There’s a patient I’m still in touch with who I helped. They’ve had to learn to walk again but they’ve made marvellous progress.
“I feel great pride, seeing how that person had got better and went home to their family.”
We met in a city centre café and life seemed almost back to normal as people sat outside bars enjoying the summer warmth and relative freedom after months of lockdown.
It is close to the plush hotel where Merseyside club Marine, from the Northern Premier League, stayed ahead of the most famous day in the club’s history.
It was a tie that encapsulated the magic of the FA Cup and proved that the old competition was still alive and kicking.
Spurs, top of the Premier League versus Marine, the lowest ranked club in the FA Cup third round.
Danny, released by Tranmere Rovers aged 18, had drifted into a mundane job but then the PFA stepped in.
“It was a dull and boring office job, but the Professional Footballers’ Association gave me an opportunity to train as a physiotherapist. It changed my life,” said Danny who graduated from the University of Salford with first class honours in 2020.
“I’d watch superstars like Gareth Bale and Dele Alli on Match of the Day, never imagining that one day you might be on the same pitch as them.
“After work, I’d play for Marine at Clitheroe, Kendal or Workington on a freezing winter’s night, but I just loved football.”
Danny admits it was a ‘surreal moment’ when Robbie Savage pulled Spurs out to face Marine at Rossett Park and so was the day.
“We had Police outriders in front of the team bus from Liverpool to Crosby and a few hours later I’m stood next to Gareth Bale, a Champions League winner and once the world’s most expensive player.
“Jose Mourinho was first class. He gave us a shirt to auction and the Spurs players were very humble lads.
“It was a privilege to be on the same pitch as them, to witness their incredible skill levels because they were on another planet.
“When I went into work at the hospital the next day some patients said that they had seen me on TV and that it had cheered them up.
“I was so grateful and emotional hearing that because it meant an awful lot to me.
“I’ll will always be indebted to the PFA for their help and wise advice because my union changed the course of my life.”