The Newcastle Fan Visiting Every Premier League Stadium In Memory Of His 14-Year-Old Cousin
Amy Thomas had all the makings of any teenager: a sense of humour, a natural charm and plenty of friends to surround her. "She was cheeky, funny [...] and very kind," her mum, Rachael Thomas, said with pride. But the more she spoke about Amy, the more emotional she became.
The 14-year-old had her entire life ahead of her, but then it was tragically snatched away. Amy died on Saturday 28th October 2017 after she suffered an asthma attack. Almost one year since she passed away, Amy's legacy has been moulded into a symbolic movement to raise awareness for Asthma UK.
Now, one of her relatives is ready to carry her message -- one that could save countless people -- across the UK using the power of football. Joseph Thomas will embark on a weekend-long tour around all 20 Premier League stadiums as part of a charity drive for The Amy Thomas Tribute Fund.
The 23-year-old, who is from Glastonbury, Somerset, has raised an incredible £2,575 for Asthma UK at the time of this writing. Beyond the money raised -- donations are still being taken, by the way -- the Newcastle United fan has an important reason that he is channelling his passion for football into the cause.
"I ain't no runner, no cyclist, I ain't jump[ing] out of no planes or anything like that, so I thought... this might be something because I'm into football," he told SPORTbible. "I go to all the Newcastle games, so I thought the power of football and that's what I knew.
"Everything like the Bradley Lowery [story] and anything like that ever happens seems to always go big. I thought 1,500 miles is not exactly a drive across the country. It's quite a few miles. I think it worked out like driving from here to nearly to the south of Spain, so it's quite far."
In what will be a long, gruelling experience travelling from stadium to stadium, Joseph had no reservations about doing the challenge in Amy's honour. He spoke softly and candidly about the impact of her death on everyone close to him, including a family that is closely connected through a business they run together.
Joseph will be carrying a banner with him when he takes his photos at each stadium, posting them on Instagram to show the progress that he has made over the weekend. As a Newcastle fan, of course, he still has time to cheer on his struggling side. In fact, he will fly Amy's banner inside the St Mary's Stadium when he watches the Magpies' clash with Southampton on Saturday.
While he might be the away fan for that match, he will have home support with him every step of the way in the form of his partner, Sammi Thomas. The 25-year-old, who has been married for six months, is 100 per cent supportive of her husband. She told SPORTbible that Joseph's plan is a "brilliant idea," though she will "miss him loads."
If there is one person championing this cause as much as Joseph, then it's none other than Amy's mother. Much like Sammi, the 42-year-old understands how football could prove to be an important chapter in Amy's legacy.
"I think it's wonderful [and] I think it's mad," Rachael chuckled. "I think him driving to all 20 Premier League stadiums is a little bit mental, but obviously he's thinking about his cousin. I think it's wonderful, amazing."
Rachael has been working meticulously behind the scenes for Joseph's crowdfunding initiative, contacting all 20 clubs and working closely with Asthma UK to ensure his charity drive flourishes to its full potential.
"I tried to contact all 20 clubs," she said, before adding: "first of all out of courtesy. And I'm obviously in contact with Asthma UK and they've given him kind of a letter of authorisation. So if someone comes along and says, 'Hey, what the hell are you doing,' he can say, 'Well, I'm doing this as a charity drive and Asthma UK know I'm doing it.'
"I contacted all 20 clubs just out of courtesy. I didn't want anything. I wasn't asking for anything. The main ones I can think of are Newcastle replied and they're happy for him to go on the actual pitch and have his photo taken. And also Southampton [...] were really supportive and they were like, 'Get Joseph to contact us nearer [to] the time.' A couple of the clubs have sent back some quite nice, personal emails."
In preserving Amy's memories and raising awareness for Asthma UK, it has been a burden that only a mother (or father) will ever know. Rachael has fought hard to keep her focus clear of any self-doubt. In creating the Tribute Fund, she has raised £13,806.14 at the time of this writing. Sure, it hasn't come without its challenges, but it is one that has helped Rachael reach an incredible feat in the memory of her daughter.
"I think I set up the page for something to do: I wasn't sleeping very well at the time and I saw that you could do it and it's one of those things you do at silly time in the morning when you can't sleep because of, you know, what had happened," she recalled.
"The only word I can think of is I'm absolutely overwhelmed with the response to the page. Obviously, a lot of friends and family have donated and put some money in and writing [different] sort of messages. But also members of the public -- people we don't know -- have found the page. For instance, a local bloke... it was his birthday -- he was 70 -- he didn't want presents and he wanted the money to go to charity and he chose Asthma UK and Bristol Children's Hospital."
As much as Amy's story is the crux of Joseph's charity drive, Rachel also wishes to place the spotlight on Asthma UK. The charity, of course, has been touched by their ongoing efforts.
Amy Flavin, the community fundraising officer for Asthma UK, told SPORTbible: "We want to thank Joseph and Rachel for the incredible fundraising they have done for Asthma UK. It's only thanks to the generous support of people like the Thomas family that Asthma UK is able to continue helping the 5.4 million people in the UK who have asthma, so we are extremely grateful for the incredible £2,500 (in counting) that Joseph has raised from his Premier League stadium tour.
"Asthma attacks claim the lives of three people in the UK every day. That's why our work at Asthma UK is vital, to fund research into a cure for the condition and offer health advice to help people with asthma stay well."
Rachael told SPORTbible about a 'picnic area' dedicated in Amy's name, a place where strangers from all walks of lives can find "little cards" that take them to The Tribute Fund to read Amy's story. Now, that story is going to be turned into a walking symbol from stadium to stadium this weekend.
Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo once said: "If we can't help our family, who are going to help?" He proved that to be true when former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson allowed the five-time Ballon d'Or winner to leave the club during the season to see his father in his darkest hour.
For Amy's parents -- Rachael and Martin Thomas -- some wounds will heal over time. But scars are a reminder that not all hope is lost. They are a sign that the future can be shaped in a way to help others, and the Beautiful Game can help to carry Amy's poignant story and growing legacy to countless football fans this weekend.
The Amy Thomas Tribute Fund https://t.co/wm8uwMj8sc#ihateasthma
- Rachael (@Rachael33612589) 29 December 2017
You can follow Joseph Thomas' campaign around all 20 stadiums on Instagram and donate to his cause at The Amy Thomas Tribute Fund. For more information on getting involved in fundraising, check out Asthma UK's website.
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Featured Image Credit: Joseph Thomas/Rachael Thomas