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Glenn Roeder Interview

First appeared in London Evening Standard Fri 06.06.03

Roeder: I thought I was Dying 

West Ham manager Glenn Roeder has spoken for the first time about the moment he thought he was going to die from a brain tumour.

He was convinced doctors would tell him he had days to live. "When I was first told it was a tumour I thought, 'Christ, they're going to tell me how long I've got'," he reveals today in an exclusive interview with the Evening Standard.

Roeder, 47, was taken to London Hospital with a suspected stroke following West Ham's game against Middlesbrough in April.

He said: "It could have been much worse. If I had blacked out half an hour later I would probably have been driving home with two of my children in the car with me."

"I remember everything that day, the game, Trevor Sinclair scoring the winner late on, the TV interviews, the press conference. I recall being in the office with Roger, Ludo and yourself and then it all goes black.

"You asked me afterwards if I had bruises on my chest because you thumped me there several times thinking it was a heart attack.

"Luckily for me, Ges Steinbergs (the club doctor) was still at the ground, probably tucking into his post-match meal as usual. "They put me to sleep for the next five days which must have been the hardest to bear for Faith and the family, seeing me there with tubes coming out of everywhere, motionless, looking to all intents and purposes like I was dead.

A scan revealed a tumour and he underwent a three and a half hour operation in the London Clinic three weeks ago. He said: " Thankfully I was then quickly told that there was a good chance it was benign and that it could be removed successfully. "

"This experience has taught me so much," he says, "not least that the doctors and nurses who cared for me are the real stars, not footballers.

"Mr Afshar, who performed the operation and the neurologist Dr Gawler, they truly are unsung heroes, the silent superstars They don't seek the limelight but every day they are saving lives.

"The nurses too, both in the London Hospital and the London Clinic, were magnificent. They have smiles on their faces as they work their 12-hour shifts simply because they care about people.

"I will also never be able to repay the two club doctors, Ges Steinbergs and Sean Howlett, for what they've done. They are two magnificent guys." 

"The fortunate thing is that, because of the position of the tumour, it provided an easier opportunity for Mr Afshar to remove it.

"I'm no expert but I have learned a fair bit by necessity.

"He obviously had to remove some of the brain in that area as well but I was fortunate again that it was in an area that doesn't control anything vital. I know there is a chance that brain surgery can affect personality but people tell me I'm just the same.

"My wife was disappointed. She was hoping it would have softened me because I can be opinionated at times when I believe I'm right but I'm no different."

Roeder will carry on as West Ham manager and is confident of being ready to resume his duties when the squad return for pre-season training at the beginning of July.

"I have to take it easy for a bit. This is the first time I've been on a lead in my life," he says, "and it's not easy.

"It's a small price to pay though, after everything that has happened.

"Every day I feel stronger. I'm still taking 14 pills a day but they're gradually being reduced. The headaches straight after the operation were pretty severe for a time, as you would expect, but I haven't had one now for 10 days.

Roeder may ease off a little in some areas though. He says: "I was very much a hands-on manager before my illness and perhaps I will have to delegate a little in the future. "I've never given any thought to packing it in though and Faith supports me in that decision, or any other. In fact I couldn't find a more supportive wife if I went to the ends of the earth."

"The five days I spent on a life support machine were the worst for the family. I had tubes everywhere, I was motionless, I looked as though I was dead.

"My youngest son Joe is only eight and he was protected as much as possible. William is 14 and he came to the hospital once. He was very upset which was understandable.

"Holly is 18 and she apparently showed strength of character which was way beyond her years."

The stress of managing the club, who were relegated from the Premiership, was blamed for Roeder's illness. He had been under pressure for months following the team's poor form. But Roeder insists the stress of the relegation fight did not cause him to collapse.

"Stress didn't cause this," he maintains today. "Anyone can have a brain tumour, it doesn't matter what job they have or whether they have a job at all.

"The tumour was apparently a slow-growing one although no one can say exactly how long it had been there. What happened that day was going to happen at some time."

Roeder now has a scar running from one side of his head to the other.

"I've had cards and letters from New Zealand, USA, Australia, China and people within football have been so kind as well," he says.

He adds: "Almost all the Premiership and Nationwide League club managers either sent faxes or letters. 

"There were even a couple of lads at Watford, Craig Ramage and Gerald Lavin, who made contact which really touched me. We hadn't always got on because I had left them out at times and I would never put them down as the type who would buy a card, let alone enclose a letter.

"It just goes to show me that there are a lot of good people out there, the silent majority."

And Roeder will be getting out the pen and paper himself. "Everyone will get a reply," he says. "If they have taken the bother to write to me and they've enclosed their address, it's the least I can do."

"I've a lot to look forward to now. "It's been a worrying time but I can look forward now.

"The skill of the doctors has given me plenty more years hopefully.

"I have two sons and a daughter and I need to be around to see them all into adulthood."

Roeder says he is more determined than ever to turn things around at the club. "My view is that there is unfinished business for me."

"I've never thought of packing it in. I didn't have a stroke as has been reported in some quarters," he said. "It was a brain tumour which has been removed and is very unlikely to recur.

"As far as I am concerned there is unfinished business for me and I expect to be up and running - literally - by the time we return to pre-season training at the beginning of July."

"Something like this sharpens the senses and makes things clearer. I had a good first season and finished seventh. A lot of people were for me then but I accept some of those will be against me now because we have been relegated.

"No more will managers say that 40 points are enough to stay up though because we managed 42 and went down. Injuries to key players at key times cost us dearly.

"We lost 15 games in my first season and finished seventh. We lost one more last season and went down.

"I only want players next season who are prepared to put the team before themselves, who show their individual skill within a team framework. We want 11 players moving in the same direction."

"The job had nothing to do with it," he said. "Anyone can have a brain tumour, it doesn't matter what job they have or whether they have a job at all. The main thing is not to take your health for granted and think that it can't happen to you."

Ken Dyer

Page last updated 25 June, 2009