Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Oscar's Party

On the morning of St Paddy's Day, earlier this year, I was playing football for Chorlton Irish. It was a really hard-fought game & after about an hour, we fell a goal behind. That football cliché happened, when before kicking off again, everyone rolled up their sleeves, as if to say we've got to start working again. I looked around me & noticed that almost every single one of us had a blue wristband on our wrists. I've taken my 'Team Oscar' band for granted & wear it constantly, but I'd never noticed everyone else wearing theirs before that moment. I think thats what best sums up the level of support both myself & Shaun have received from Chorlton Irish FC

When we were deciding upon a venue for what would be our final fundraiser, there was only ever one choice. We were offered bigger venues, with more support, but Chorlton Irish Club is where our story all began. It was there that Tim, another lad from the Chorlton Irish football team, first put the idea in my head of having a charity connected to the 7ma7ches7coun7ries7days tour, whilst not directly fundraising with it, initially
(6 months on & I still haven't come up with a snappier title for that 1)

It was there that myself & Shaun sat & talked about the logistics of Oscar's Flag carrying on, immediately after that event. (That was near Christmas & I seem to remember being a lengthy discussion, judging by the amount of Guinness consumed by us)

It was in there that Shaun suggested stepping up the fundraising with a whole new challenge, & it was there that shaunscycle4oscar was born. The lunatic

It was always going to be in there.

However, I mentioned in the last blog that the whole dynamic of our event had changed, thanks to Oscar's fantastic news. That's why we've changed the night from 'Soccer OK' to 'Oscar's Party'. What Oscar has achieved is nothing short of remarkable & we want to celebrate that fact, whilst saying thank you to everyone who has supported us, & more importantly, him.
TeamOscarMCR have been a huge help & we want to put on a night that, whilst raising money, is one big party. It's not everyday that you get to celebrate this sort of thing

So come down, get yourself involved & bring your mates for Oscar's Flag's curtain closer, this Friday, 24th May.
Prompt 7.45 kick off. Chorlton Irish Club, 17 High Ln  Manchester, Greater Manchester M21 9DJ

There will be some very special guests popping in on the night, the Chorlton Irish FC awards, live music from the fantastic Midnite Crisis, some great prizes to be won & a great night's craic to be had by all. £6 on the door & that includes your own 'Team Oscar' wristband & a feed.

Doesn't include your Guinness,though


Football is such big business now,that its had its very soul stripped away. It's not fun like it used to be, because people have become so obsessed in it,living it 24/7. 

In short, there's so much razzmatazz surrounding it, so much hype, that it loses whats at the very soul of it.

On Monday, April 22, I was sat about 500 yards from OT, half-watching Man Utd play Aston Villa. 
(On TV, not using binoculars)

United needed to win to clinch the league title & Van Persie scored after a few seconds to put them in front,but I carried on on my laptop, planning things for our next fundraiser, whilst, ironically, also trying to arrange for Oscar's flag to be at United's next home game v Swansea,when my phone rang. A mate of mine from back home asked if I'd heard the news about Oscar. 

He'd got the all-clear.


He'd had the all-clear on a few of his test results over the previous weeks,but this was the final test that his family were waiting on. He'd done it, he'd beaten cancer. I've never met Oscar, but having followed his story for so long & having since met some of his family, this news was massive for me. I spoke to Shaun straight away & it was all just such a buzz. However, then it dawned on me, that I'd been so engrossed in all this side of it,that I hadn't even heard the news that was announced 3 hours previous.

We chose to get involved in all of this. We had a stupid idea & decided to try & use our story to help raise awareness for the Oscar Knox appeal. We developed that idea further into other things that would raise money for the Oscar Knox Appeal. This led to us becoming obsessed in quantifying what we were doing. How many people were we getting the word out to? How much money are we raising?What else could we do to promote it further?
It was Shaun who suggested getting the flag signed by famous faces throughout his cycle & auctioning it, which then upped the pressure of making it as famous as possible, in order to raise as much money as possible for the Appeal. In all honesty, it all became work & as much fun as the challenge aspects were at their respective times, everything else has been planning,fundraising,meetings, broken promises, more planning,& so on. This all led to us becoming so focused  on The Oscar Knox Appeal that we'd lost sight of what was at the heart of that.

Oscar Knox.

Wee Oscar as he's known back home, has been through things in his 4 years that, hopefully, the majority of us never have, or never will go through.
Thousands of people have been campaigning & fundraising in his name. What myself, Shaun & the other people who've helped us throughout this last 6 months have done has been a drop in the ocean,amidst all of these people who've been a part of  'Team Oscar'. These people chose to get involved,not out of pity, but because they saw a family &, in particular, a child, who had been dealt a terrible card in life & rather than throw their hands up & accept defeat, chose to fight on. 
Myself & Shaun can vouch for the countless frustrations we've faced doing this. Fundraising is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Much more difficult than I ever imagined.
However, we never had it on anywhere near the scale they did,all the while having a sick child to care for at the same time, as well as his younger sister to look after, pay the bills.... 
The more I think about it, I don't know how they manage it, yet they continue to carry on having a laugh, taking the kids to the beach, living as close to a normal life as they possibly could, all the while fighting this. A lot of people say they had no choice, but I know a lot of people would've handled it differently.
I hate describing a person as inspirational, it sounds so corny, but the truth is, Oscar hasn't been given the credit he deserves. Nor have his incredible family. They brought together people from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland to support his fight.
(In fact,up until 8 months ago, I probably wouldn't even have been comfortable using the term 'Northern Ireland').
I'm a lot prouder of where I come from nowadays than I ever was.
Never mind the politics, thousands of people came together to help out one of their own, regardless of religion,politics,etc.
And then, when all hope looked gone, he pulled himself back from the brink, despite the massive struggles he faced in Philadelphia. He did that. A 4 year old boy
If that's not inspirational, I don't know what is.

We never set out to get involved with the Oscar Knox Appeal, but we decided that it may be possible to use the world's most popular sport to help raise awareness for a little boy who needed help. We'll never know how successful our campaign has been,as it began life solely with the aim of raising awareness for the appeal,before adding fundraising to it at a later date, but we've certainly given it our best shot in terms of raising money.The Oscar Knox Appeal has raised over £650,000 to date, but £250,000 of that was used to begin his treatment in that ill-fated Philadelphia trip, & they need £500,000 ring-fenced in case of a relapse. If after 5 years, that money hasn't been needed (God willing), it will be released to the Neuroblastoma Alliance to help other children like Oscar,& fund research into this horrible disease.

 Our final fundraising event takes place on Friday 24th May at Chorlton Irish club,so it allows us to gather all the money we've raised to announce our 'final score' on May 25th (not a coincidence that it's the last big game of the football season that same night, the champions league final) but this doesn't mean that we're finishing fundraising for The Oscar Knox Appeal, or won't be helping out any of the other countless great causes that we've met along the way. It just means that our 'Oscar's Flag' campaign will conclude with the football season.

Because of all of the football connections throughout our campaign, I found the serendipity of sitting watching Manchester United win the league, whilst sitting in the shadow of Old Trafford, as Wee Oscar had the best result of all, absolutely incredible. I'm an Evertonian, & have never experienced success in my match-going life, but I felt like I'd seen us win the league that day.The laptop went away & the champagne came out in our house, as I sat back & watched Wayne Rooney play a perfect pass for Robin Van Persie to unleash a pure beaut of a volley & score one of the best goals you'll ever see in your life. Straight away, I was thinking back to Belfast,when I was a kid & how we'd all be out in the street trying to replicate that for hours every day until someone got it & we'd all be going mental when we did
 Van Persie went on to complete his hat trick, in the title clinching game. Again, the sort of thing that you dreamed about as a kid,& I was watching football romantically again. Remembering why I fell in love with it in the first place.

 I mentioned to Shaun on the phone that we would have a lot more work to do on the fundraiser now, as we would have to speak to the Neuroblastoma Alliance & change everything we'd done in the way of promoting our event, starting tickets & posters etc from scratch, as well as changing the whole tone of the night. Neither of us cared.
It was no longer about effort, money, who'd let us down, etc. The only reason we got involved in the first place was to help Oscar get better. Who cares who contributes what or who says they're going to do this & that? Strip away everything else & all you're left with is the fact that one wee boy has faced all sorts of incredibly difficult challenges & is now looking forward to starting school in September, right on schedule. Being able to enjoy other kids' company & just do what kids do. Maybe even have a crack at a Van Persie volley in the playground in a few years time

That's all this has ever been about

Well done, Oscar

Truly inspirational

Truly fearless

Friday, 12 April 2013

Day 2- Man City, Man United

40 miles was the shortest distance he had to take in in one day, but he is the first to admit that he underestimated how harsh the Pennines would be.
The cold winds didn't help him across those steep hills, but he made it to the Etihad, Man City, where I met back up with him. We had a good turnout at City to support Shaun, including his dad, who had flown over from back home to surprise him, which was a great lift for him.

City had all sorts going around there at City Square, with people signing up for the Anthony Nolan register
(a great initiative to get people signed up to one of the three UK bone marrow donor registers for those needing transplants)
& also bucket collections taking place for City in the Community. We've tried wherever we can to help out other charities,& also make sure we don't step on any of their toes, but these 2 charities in particular have helped us immensely in the past, so it was a happy coincidence that they were there.

After a few pictures inside the ground, we were back in City Square (a type of fanzone outside the Etihad) & Shaun found himself being interviewed for City tv, as celebs such as Bradley Wiggins & James Martin looked on. (They were actually Chorlton Irish player Stu & the manager, Dan, but the commotion around Shaun with cameras, especially 'Wiggo' with the bike, led people to think otherwise)

From City, Shaun made the short cycle to Old Trafford, where the other half of Chorlton Irish turned out to meet him (days leading up to it of "I'm not setting foot in their dump",& vice versa) Shaun was also met there by some MediaCity residents & the people behind Glue creative media in MediaCity, who've been massively supportive of our campaign to raise awareness for the Oscar Knox Appeal, as have Grimshaws Vauxhall, so thanks to them. Special thanks to Moira Doherty at Man United for all of her help in organising this & for the donation of a signed Man United ball

Following a few photo ops in & around Old Trafford, & debating who was climbing up the '3 amigos' statue of Charlton, Law & Best to put a wristband on it (Everyone knows the real Holy Trinity was Kendall, Ball & Harvey), we headed across to MediaCity, the BBC's new home in the North, where one famous face did wear one of Oscar's wristbands

Day 1 Newcastle, Sunderland

For those of you who haven't followed the story as it unfolded on Twitter, Shaun set off on Good Friday starting at St. James's Park, Newcastle. The night before it started, we had loads of last minute prep to finalise, so lots of errands were run & most involved meeting various people in pubs. This led to me having, what transpired to be, a fairly heavy session before heading back to Shaun's, where he was getting picked up by a colleague who was taking the first leg of driving a support car. Upon arrival, around 4am, it became apparent that there wasn't going to be enough room for me in the car, so they had to set off for Newcastle without me.

They made great time getting up there, & Shaun was chomping at the bit to get out on the bike. I had published an itinerary on this very blog to give approximate times, but Shaun set off early,such was Shaun's enthusiasm. Unfortunately, we learned through Twitter that several people had turned up to see Shaun off, only to learn that he'd already gone. One guy had even travelled down from Scotland during the night, so we can't apologise enough for that. Thanks again for your support throughout, though.

Shaun then made the short cycle down to Sunderland, & the Stadium of Light, & following a few pictures, headed onwards to Leeds, where he'd be bedding down for the night, leaving him with a fairly straightforward 40m cycle across the Pennines the next morning back into Manchester. Or so he thought.

Shaun's amazing effort

Last week, I met a phenomenal fundraiser, who's devoted his life to crazy challenges to raise money for those less fortunate than he is. When I asked him whether Kilimanjaro was on his agenda, he sneered, as if to say, "too mainstream". Hipster fundraising. I loved it

I was pressing him on his previous exploits & he told me it all began with a cycle across Cuba. I asked what kind of distance that was & he told me it was 243 miles. It was my turn to sneer, involuntarily, of course.
He defended it, talking about the terrain, the heat,etc.
I was mortified, & of course apologised profusely.

As he left, I sat in that coffee shop & reflected on how easily I could cycle 243 miles,in any conditions. I couldn't. No way. It would take me months of training before I'd attempt anything like that. I tried to put it into perspective & I realised that helping Shaun put together his challenge, constantly looking at cycle routes & trying to work out where Shaun would be bedding down for the night had completely desensitized me to distances. I'd look at the starting point, work out a realistic distance & Shaun would subsequently smash through those expectations

Looking back, Shaun put the work in day in, day out in training for this,& his attitude was always positive. There was never an issue of not doing it,& that lured me into thinking it was easy. I was booking his accomodation daily,always leaving it until he could go no further & using
the next town as a marker.

However, Shaun was hammering through distances seemingly effortlessly, averaging over 100miles per day,
& obviously this was getting consistently more difficult,as each morning he was hurting more & more. At no point did he complain. At no point did he doubt himself. At no point did he contemplate giving up.
It really was an inspirational effort,& a fantastic achievement to complete them all. & he made it look easy.

When he came up with the idea,& we were first discussing the logistics, he spoke about 1200 miles in under 13 days. This seemed a lot to me, but Shaun ended up cycling to every Premier League ground in 10 days. He achieved this by cutting out his rest days completely. No time to allow his body to recover, just a single-minded mission to get round all 20 stadiums & get home. Incredible stuff

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Shaun's cycle4oscar

Shaun's Itinerary- as it stands,& all approx times but will be regularly updated via Twitter (@oscarsflag)
(Come on, the man's doing 1200 miles on a bike)

Good Friday 29th March

Depart St James's Park,Newcastle 7.30am

Arrive at Stadium of Light, Sunderland 9am
14 miles later

Saturday, 30th March
Arrive Etihad stadium,Manchester City,1.30 pm
161 miles to date

Arrive Old Trafford,Manchester United, 3.30pm
166 miles later

Easter Sunday, 31st March
Arrive DW stadium,Wigan 10am
186 miles so far
Arrive Anfield,Liverpool,12.30pm
205 miles later

Arrive Goodison Park, Everton, 1.30pm
206 miles down
Monday 1st April
Arrive Brittania stadium, Stoke, 12.30pm
268 miles

Arrive The Hawthorns, West Bromwich, 3pm
315 miles done so far

Tuesday 2nd April
Arrive Villa Park, Aston Villa,9am
319 miles clocked up

Wednesday 3rd April
Arrive Liberty Stadium, Swansea, 10am
458 gruelling miles

Thursday 4th April
Arrive St Mary's stadium, Southampton 4pm
636 miles altogether

Friday 5th April
Arrive Madejski Stadium, Reading 11am
689 miles

Saturday 6th April
Stamford Bridge, Chelsea 10am

Craven Cottage, Fulham 12pm

Loftus Road,QPR 1pm

Emirates,Arsenal 2pm

White Hart Lane, Tottenham 3pm

Upton Park,West Ham 4pm

Monday 8th April
Finish at Carrow Road, Norwich

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A night at the Oscar's

A new addition to this blog has been a long time coming.

That doesn't mean that the work hasn't been going on behind the scenes. Lots has been happening & that's all about to become evident starting today. We are launching our Twitter campaign on a bigger scale to make a real go of this. The original concept of Oscar's Flag was to use football, a game that unites so many, to raise awareness for The Oscar Knox Appeal further afield.

For those of you new to this blog, you can read a bit more about "Wee Oscar" here


Shaun O'Neill,a member of Team Oscar is due to start his epic cycle, taking Oscar's flag to EVERY single Premier League ground,beginning at St James's Park,Newcastle at 7.30 am on Good Friday (29th March) You can read about how the cycle came to be here


Following this blog, I will be updating a full itinerary of (approximate) dates & times of each ground Shaun will be at, so please get along & support the flag.

Shaun's going to be writing a blog on this page each day, detailing exactly what he's going through. There will, undoubtedly,be trials & tribulations along the way, but various members of Team Oscar will be there along the way,offering support. I will update regularly as to how Shaun's itinerary evolves along the way,but if you're on Twitter,follow the story with regular live updates at

So what's with all the secrecy around everything else? Well, we had planned a few other challenges for the flag to take part in to try & start raising hard cash for the Oscar Knox Appeal. The 7 games in 7 countries challenge was always designed to raise awareness for Oscar,but the justgiving link
was set up as an afterthought for those who felt compelled to donate to us directly,rather than through Oscar's blog. When that link was set up,we vowed to carry on the work afterwards to raise as much money as possible. Shaunscycle4Oscar was designed to give us something fresh to promote,to really kickstart the fundraising again & Shaun's own justgiving page has seen tremendous success. Shaun's own fundraising efforts have honestly been even more impressive than the 1200+ mile cycle attempt. The guy deserves true recognition for,not just what he's about to go through,but also the amount of work he's put into our other efforts.

Shaun's Cycle isn't the only reason we've decided to up our efforts now.

On Monday, a fantastic Press conference was called to make a special announcement. Here's the wee man himself in action


Oscar's parents have decided that they need to take a step back from fundraising,in order to spend more time as a family. I think this as a fantastic idea,as I can only imagine everything what they've been through in the last few years. Trying to live an everyday life,with going to work & taking care of 2 children is hard enough for anyone, but with Oscar's illness,it becomes unimaginable. Regular hospital visits, the family being separated for long periods,as well as trying to allow Oscar as normal a life as possible would make it very difficult, but the sheer volume of fundraising in his name is unprecedented. As fantastic as that is, it does mean a lot of commitments for the family & time spent dealing with this. I don't mean to put words in anyone's mouth, but it must be exhausting trying to juggle everything.Most of Oscar's,& certainly Izzy,his little sister's, has been spent,not only in hospitals, but also in the media spotlight, & they deserve to spend some time together as a normal family.

With this in mind, we've decided to draw a finish line in front of our own campaign.

We had planned a series of small fundraising events dotted around Manchester, along with other challenges (not on the scale of the first one,& definitely nowhere near Shaun's effort, but fun targets nonetheless), leading throughout the summer to a big finale, but we've decided to just go for it. One night in Chorlton Irish club, with live music & a football memorabilia auction, as well as some other great items that have been generously donated, taking place on May 24th, 10 days after Oscar's big fight night. One chance to raise as much money as we possibly can. Ticket information will be announced soon,as well as full details of what we're doing on the night. It's very short notice, but we think this is the best way to raise as much money as possible,& as much awareness as possible, whilst simultaneously allowing the spotlight to come off the Knox family.

Organising this event is now a challenge in itself, but that doesn't mean those other challenges I mentioned are going away either. We now just have to jump into organising them in a lot less time. Full details will be announced as to what's next for Oscar's Flag once Shaun has successfully completed his epic cycle4Oscar, of which I have no doubt he will. That deserves undivided attention for the next 2 weeks,so that's what's instore for the foreseeable future,along with full details of the fundraising efforts & the main event

Any suggestions to ways to further our fundraising are always welcome, or if you want to get involved & help out with Oscar's Flag,  feel free to use the comments section below

Thanks for reading


PS Best of luck Shaun.

 On yer bike