Saturday 19 January 2019

Rio brought us on a difficult journey

Weird Wide World of Sport

‘Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad’ is a deeply touching documentary
‘Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad’ is a deeply touching documentary

Dave Devereux

When the name Bill Shankly is mentioned, his oft-quoted line immediately springs to mind - 'Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that'.

The Liverpool legend may well have had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when he uttered the famous words, but watching the documentary 'Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad' last week was an acute reminder of what a load of codswallop he was spouting.

The former Manchester United centre-half lost his wife Rebecca to cancer at the tender age of 34 in 2015, and the poignant programme brought us into his life with his three children a year after her passing, where the normal and mundane aspects of everyday routine were interspersed with the raw grief that Rio and his family were forced to deal with.

The emotional documentary would certainly hit a nerve with any mother of young children, stirring up thoughts of how her family would cope if anything was to happen to her.

Similarly, any dads watching couldn't help but put themselves in Rio's shoes and wonder how would they keep going if their partner were tragically taken away from them.

The rest of us may not live the millionaire's lifestyle of an ex-Premier League footballer, but those children that were left without a mother would gladly give up all the trappings of wealth to have their mum's smiling face reassuring them at the kitchen table every morning.

It was the feeling that loss is the same for everyone, whether you're a prince of a pauper, that brought a real candidness to the show.

When he spoke to other widowers in the same boat that had set up their own 'fight club' to discuss their shared experiences, the sense of celebrity drifted away and instead of an international football superstar you see Ferdinand as just a grieving husband, facing huge challenges like the others.

I'm an emotional old fool at the best of times, so seeing the former England captain speaking frankly and openly about the tragedy that ripped through the heart of his family was a difficult watch.

Sport is normally a safe place for us men folk. We can vent our frustration and let off steam and make the world a better place without showing any of our real weaknesses, frailties, concerns or grief.

That's why this documentary was so important. Watching a flamboyant, yet teak-tough, centre-back, who we were used to seeing lording it over some of the top strikers in the game, laid bare and fighting back the tears would have struck a chord with normally unflappable football fans.

Depending on where your loyalties lay, hard-as-nails followers of the beautiful game would have seen no shame in shedding tears of joy or despair as Rio lifted a trophy above his head during his playing days, but now we could all cry as one with him as the raw pain of his loss entered our living rooms.

It was obvious that he was only beginning to work through the grief and doing it in a very public way, and there were some wonderful rays of hope as you could see progress being made before your eyes.

Rio's admission that he needed help was a huge breakthrough moment, and with time himself and his family will be able to move on without ever forgetting.

The children were encouraged to weave lasting reminders of their mother by drawing pictures and writing messages and placing them in a memory box.

Heart-wrenching notes like 'I loved it when mummy did big hugs' and 'I'm drawing you and mummy holding hands' were deeply moving, but were also strangely uplifting as you could see the three children, Lorenz, Tate and Tia, coming to terms with their loss.

There's no doubting sport is hugely important as a means of keeping us healthy in body and in mind, but some things put it all in perspective.

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