We’ve been covering a lot of doom and gloom in football this week. Here’s a story that reminds us how football can be a force for good.
Shaun Whiter is a 27-year-old nonleague footballer. He last played for Suffolk amateur side Newmarket Town, currently in the Eastern Counties League Premier Division (in the ninth tier of English football). In July, Whiter was helping his friend Joey Abbs change a tire by the side of the road when they were both struck by a hit-and-run driver. Abbs sustained a serious injury to his leg but recovered. Whiter, however, needed to have his legs amputated. The driver was eventually caught and ended up pleading guilty to the UK equivalent of vehicular manslaugher; he has since been sentenced to more than three years in jail.
But Whiter still has to live with the fallout. His career in football is over, although he intends to pursue paralympic sports as his rehabilitation progresses and aims to make the Great Britain team for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. And as a real estate agent, Whiter doesn't quite have the resources to cover his rehab and physical therapy. On top of all that, he's getting married next year. Whiter's put on a brave face throughout the ordeal, but it's clear that this is all pretty overwhelming for one person to handle all on their own.
Thankfully, he won't have to. League Two club Cambridge United are hosting a fundraiser on October 9th in Whiter's honor, with proceeds going to help with his hospital and physical therapy bills. Several nonleague sides will compete in a mini-tournament to drum up funds through ticket sales. There will also be an auction featuring shirts donated by Wayne Rooney, John Terry, senior squad members from Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, West Ham, and a number of England internationals.
But the auction organizers just received a major boost— a signed shirt from Lionel Messi.
Messi, along with Barcelona teammate Arda Turan, were made aware of Whiter’s story and sent the shirt for donation and well-wishes in his recovery.
Whiter, as he noted to the BBC, was beside himself. “I can’t thank Lionel Messi and Arda Turan enough for donating their shirts and getting them to Cambridge. We’re going to auction them off and see what we can get.”
If you’re in the neighborhood, tickets are still available for Cambridge’s Family Football Day. Whiter also has a crowdfunding page, if you’d like to help.