Rio Ferdinand: Football Shows its True Colors
For weeks, Rio Ferdinand’s absence at the heart of QPR’s relegation fight went unexplained.
The assumption was that he was injured or that he’d somehow fallen out with Chris Ramsey, the hoops inexperienced manager.
The truth was very much worse. He’d been taking care of Rebecca Ellison, his wife and the mother of their three children, as she battled advanced stage breast cancer.
As most readers will now know, Rebecca lost that fight on Friday night at the tender age of 34.
Football at the highest level can sometimes be a greedy and selfish business but at times such as this, times of tragedy and pain, it often shows its truest colors.
Over the weekend, there were messages of support to Ferdinand and his family from every corner of the game. The likes of David Beckham, Gary Lineker and Wayne Rooney tweeted their condolences.But there was support from the terraces, too.
Old Trafford erupted in an extended and emotional standing ovation to chants of “Rio, Rio” five minutes into Manchester United’s match against West Brom. Five was the number Ferdinand wore with such distinction during his glory years at the club.
There were similar scenes at West Ham United, Ferdinand’s first club, and QPR, his current one.
When John Terry stopped a celebratory interview about Chelsea’s Premier League win on Sunday to send his and his club’s condolences to his old center back partner it brought tears to my eyes. It was a classy gesture by Terry, who fell out with Ferdinand over alleged racist remarks made to his brother, Anton. It was also symptomatic of one of football’s greatest virtues; bringing a community together in good times and bad.
Ferdinand is dealing with a very personal tragedy. Rebecca, described by her 36-year-old husband as his “soul mate”, had been diagnosed with cancer last year and appeared to be clear of the disease. But a recent scan showed that not only had the tumor returned it had also spread to her bones.
After Saturday’s QPR's game, Ramsey said of Ferdinand: “Everyone at the club will tell you, as a man, he has been fantastic. He has come in and trained and kept it all to himself. He is not been moping and has talked to all the young players.
“He has been a man-mountain. We only have good things to say about him and the way he has conducted himself.'
QPR player Leroy Fer offered his own support at Anfield after he scored in the second half during Saturday’s 2-1 defeat by Liverpool, unveiling an undershirt with the message: “Stay strong family Ferdinand.”
What many people may not know is just what kind of a man Ferdinand is away from football. He was certainly the elegant defender who amassed 81 England caps, six EPL titles, one Champions League, one FA Cup and two League Cups, but he is also so much more than that.
With no fanfare, he has been going into some of London’s toughest neighborhoods – the kind that he came from – for years trying to keep youngsters from lives of crime. He recently bankrolled a youth club in South London, regularly turning up as a mentor as well as just putting in the money. He’s also organized free FA Level One coaching courses at the University of Salford with the one proviso that the recipients go on to give back to their communities.
He has a huge social media following with many considering him a role model who understands where they are coming from, even with his fame and soccer millions.
Football cares for its own and that can be a very powerful thing. Let’s hope that in some small way it will ease the suffering of such a decent and caring man.