Ajax To Ajax And How Friends Have Made My Life Easier


It’s hard to know what to write when thinking about my last couple of weeks. So much has happened. Incredible things, mainly, but it has also been tough. Tough because my back issues have now become quite serious, and are starting to impact on how much I can do each day. But incredible because of the kindness and generosity of so many people. And that kindness has meant that, on balance, the positives have greatly outweighed the negatives.

It all started with Ajax to Ajax – and if you don’t know what that is by now, where have you been?!! The 400-mile bike ride my amazing pals Sam, Joe and Matt went through has been all-consuming over the past few weeks, maybe even months. For them, of course, but for me too, albeit for different reasons. While they were focused on achieving everything they needed to do to be ready for the mammoth ride, I was focusing on trying to deal with the idea that people would be giving their hard-earned money to me and my family.

Ever since Sam came up with the idea, and ever since the lads told me about it, I’ve grappled with it. Everyone I spoke to told me how silly I was being. After all, I wasn’t forcing those people to give up their cash – they wanted to do it! But it was still tough to accept. We had numerous discussions about it – and the lads did finally win me over. Plus, there was no doubting the fact that we did need a boost financially. We’re trying so hard to eat the right foods, speak to the right people; do the right things. And that all costs money.

So I got on board with the idea, and tried to help as much as I can – especially logistically with all the time I had on my hands. So I drew up a cycle route and researched which towns would be the best stopovers. I looked into which hostels were available and how much they might cost. It was the least I could do, seeing as the lads had so many other things on their plate. I still find it incredible how they got it all done, and a special word has to go to Sam for making it all possible. The man is a machine when it comes to getting stuff done. I have no idea how he manages it all and I dread to think how little sleep he gets!

On Easter Monday, after all the preparation, it was time to get started. The launch event would see a Matt Bates XI take on an Ajax Youth 2011/13 XI in an 80-minute football match at our old club, Central Ajax FC in Warwick.

We went down to the Ajax clubhouse the day before to set up all the raffle prizes and make sure the place was in good shape. The club’s superb chairman, Rich, marked out the pitch for us and sorted out the kitchen so that bacon butties and hot drinks could be served. And I shotgunned the home dressing room for my team.

We got quite a lot sorted and any last-minute jobs were done on Monday morning – mainly with the help of my fiancée Gemma and her family! She sorted out the cake stand while her friends – and others – sorted out the raffle tickets for us. It really was an awesome team effort, and there are so many unsung heroes from the day who helped out purely because they wanted to. It was truly fantastic.

Unfortunately for me, when the day came I had woken up in pain. It had been happening for a few weeks now, and it was all down to the nodule on my T8 vertebrae in my spine. The pain was now pretty constant, and my doctor prescribed hundreds of painkillers to help. With my cancer being kidney cancer, there are only a few painkillers I can turn to – paracetamol, codeine, tramadol and ultimately, morphine. Thankfully, I’ve only needed the latter once so far, on a particularly painful night last week, but I’ve used the other three on regular occasions.

On Easter Monday, the pain was in my diaphragm area. It often moves and can be anywhere between there, the ribs on my right side and my back. We think it’s due to nerves being affected by the spine nodule. I took a hot water bottle with me to the club and I hoped that it would fade as the day went on.

Me and Sam, the respective 'gaffers', lead our teams onto the hallowed Ajax pitch.

Me and Sam, the respective ‘gaffers’, lead our teams onto the hallowed Ajax pitch.

And it did, somehow. I just seemed to forget about it. As I spoke to more and more people I had a bigger and bigger smile on my face, and it just seemed to wipe the pain away. By the time everyone arrived I was fine. The main event, the game, was due to start and Chairman Rich said both teams should walk out together like we were in the FA Cup Final – a great idea! So we got everyone outside to clap as Sam and I led our respective teams out onto the pitch (pictured). It was a brilliant moment and gave the game a real edge, I think. It started brilliantly, and I’ve got to give real credit to every single lad who stepped out onto that pitch.

Overnight rain had turned a slick green carpet into a slow, muddy bog – and the speed of the game reflected that. There were some real tired legs out there – including mine, as I made a guest appearance on the pitch in the last minute. I took a throw in, and made a pass (I had a pass completion rate of 100%, obviously!). Even a 3-1 defeat for my Matt Bates XI couldn’t damper my spirits, I just loved every second of it.

The two teams lined up before the customary handshakes.

The two teams lined up before the customary handshakes.

When the day ended and everyone went home, the pain returned. It was a real lesson in how happiness and positivity can help you both emotionally and physically.

So if you managed to make it to the game, thank you so much. By simply attending you made my day – and by donating you’ve made my life so much easier.

One of the greatest things about the day was seeing people I hadn’t seen in ages. School friends I hadn’t seen in a decade, and their families who I hadn’t seen in even longer. Old friends who were now married with a family, two university pals who came up from Essex purely to come to the game, relatives who gave up their Easter Monday to come and support us, family friends who came from all over the place to support their mates. The list goes on.

More than £3,000 was raised. We couldn’t believe it when we were told. It all meant so much to us and it really was a day we’ll never forget. And seeing the lads head off on their bikes with everyone cheering and clapping really did put the icing on the cake. Just unbelievable.

I went home in disbelief, and then fell asleep. For hours. I was so tired, and I needed the rest because Tuesday meant more treatment up in Manchester. I haven’t written much about my latest treatment – called Nivolumab – and I’ll try and do another blog next week. But there’s not much to say right now. It’s a 60-minute infusion and so far, there haven’t been any side effects. It’s early days. And it’s a long day too – we left at 9am we didn’t get back home until more than 12 hours later. It was tough.

But the week’s thrills and spills didn’t end there, because Wednesday brought another fundraiser.

It’s been one of the effects of Ajax to Ajax. Sam’s idea has snowballed into other similar ideas – like our friend Ursula’s decision to run the Liverpool Half Marathon. Or my cousin Lesley’s idea of a bake sale at work. Plus the folk gigs that have taken place across the region in the past few weeks – I knew my Dad’s ‘fame’ on the local folk scene would come in handy one day…

One of the first gigs included him playing a few songs – and apparently one audience member paid him £20 not to play his much-loved Mars Bar Party song, only for someone to pay £30 if he did. He had a great time.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get to those first few gigs, but I knew I was free for Wednesday’s. It was in Bedworth and was organised by my Dad’s friends Malcolm and Gill. They dubbed it Music 4 Matt, with Anna Ryder headlining the night. I wanted to go even more when I saw she was playing, as I’ve known her all my life and she is a brilliant musician.

I was in pain again so me and Dad decided to just pop down for a few songs. The interval had just started when we arrived, and everyone clapped as we walked into the room. It was surreal! The room was full – definitely more people than had gone to see my Dad play there a few weeks previously (I reminded him of that a few times) – and amazingly I didn’t recognise the majority of people. They had turned up for a charity event for someone they had never met. It amazed me, and I decided to say a few words thanking everyone for coming.

They raised £500. Again, just incredible. There have been so many fundraisers that we’ve lost count! And we’re not yet sure of a total figure of how much has been raised overall. But we do know that the money is going to help both me and my family. In fact, it already has.

My mum’s juicer – which is used at least three times a day – packed up the other week. So she bought a new one, a top-of-the-range one, no questions asked. All because we knew the money was there, and that a juicer is crucial for me and is definitely part of my bid to get better. Another example is deciding to use the M6 Toll on the way home from Manchester because we knew we had the money to pay for it.

This week, I am back up in Manchester for more Nivolumab treatment. But I’m also having radiotherapy on my spine in a bid to help me with the pain. It won’t make the nodule there disappear, but it should help me and I’m happy to give it a try. But it does mean that I’ll need to stay in Manchester for three days. And that means paying for a hotel.

So again I say thank you. You are playing a key role in helping me beat this bloody horrible disease. I owe you one!

Matt Bates

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