Paul Hayward: Lionel Messi sent me a signed shirt and showed we are all in this together
No sensible journalist thinks a megastar will read a column he or she writes, even one on life and death. So when word reached me that Lionel Messi’s family were aware of a piece in which I had referenced his genius goal against Bayern Munich I assumed that was the end of it.
The piece was about cancer and how sport can keep us connected to life even when the treatment is pushing us into darkness. It was gratifying to receive that message about Messi’s family but there was no reason to think anything more would follow.
Lionel Messi sent this signed shirt after I mentioned him in a piece about illness. So kind. Thanks to all involved. pic.twitter.com/5UdXBzJDUR— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) June 1, 2016
A few months later something special was delivered to me at an impromptu meeting place. It was a Barcelona shirt, inscribed with a personal message from Messi, together with a letter of encouragement.
Professional duty dictates that reporters try not to be dazzled by celebrity, but I confess to feeling overwhelmed, and not just because Messi is the footballer whose talent I most admire.
We all wonder whether the uber-stars of world sport understand the power they wield: the spell they cast over children, say, who have fallen in love with football and obsess over their heroes in schoolyards and on playing fields.
Messi and the rest of his elite band could hardly be blind to the evidence of infatuation among his global followers. But the disconnect in our heads is that these people are fundamentally unreachable. They inhabit another world. We can see them, but they cannot see us, except as ‘audience.’
To Messi, I will have been another face in a press conference or a ‘mixed zone.’ But the message he sent suggests he does understand the power that comes with his ability. He has helped other people in this way. An act of kindness does not need a famous person’s weight behind it. But it completes the kind of connection I was trying to describe in my piece. Implausible though it sounds, we are all in this together.