Page last updated at 00:36 GMT, Saturday, 28 February 2009

'I thought cancer had ended my career'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Geoff Horsfield
Geoff Horsfield celebrating reaching the Worthington Cup final, 2001

When Geoff Horsfield was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 35, he thought his career as a successful professional footballer was over.

It was a bitter blow for the former Fulham, Halifax, Birmingham and West Brom striker and prompted him to retire.

But three months later, after getting the all-clear following an early diagnosis, he was back in the game having signed for Lincoln City.

He realises how lucky he was and is using his experience to help others by supporting a new scheme, launched this week, which involves football clubs promoting and tackling men's health issues among their supporters and communities.

The Premier League and New Football Pools 1.63m project - called Premier League Health - will involve 17 of the current 20 top-flight clubs.

Geoff said he was fortunate the lump he had found while having a bath was tiny and at a very early stage.

'Why me?'

"They said I had found it the earliest I could and they got it out before it had invaded any other cells," he said.

"I did not need any chemotherapy or radiotherapy."

He recalled being told he had cancer, saying: "It was a massive shock. I retired early and I did not think I would play again.

"I didn't know how bad my cancer was and whether it had spread.

I could have just kept my cancer hidden, but I told people what I was going through. In some small way I think I have helped some people
Geoff Horsfield

"I just thought 'I have cancer' and football went to the back of my mind. My health, my wife and two daughters were more important."

Now he is delighted to be back in the game he loves.

"Having come through the cancer I was itching to get back, but if I had needed chemotherapy or radiotherapy I don't think I could have done so," he said.

Geoff said it had been a profound shock to him that someone as fit and healthy as he was could be vulnerable to cancer.

"I have always been careful with my diet and alcohol and have never smoked, so to be told I had cancer was a big shock," he said.

"I thought 'Why me?', but it can happen to anybody."

He knows that many men are reluctant to go to the doctor for advice.

Crowd at Plymouth Albion v St Bartholmews Hospital , 1927
Football has traditionally been a pull for men and boys

That is why he is supporting the new link between football and health, which he believes might be just the thing to make men come forward for testing.

One 16-year-old boy, who had found a testicular lump, read of Geoff's battle and found the courage to tell his family, who took him to be tested.

Testicular cancer was then diagnosed, potentially saving his life.

"I could have just kept my cancer hidden, but I told people what I was going through," said Geoff.

"In some small way I think I have helped some people."

Health issues

Statistics show that English men are much less likely to go to their GP or pharmacist or get involved in health screening or weight loss programmes.

As a result their life expectancy is much lower than for women - 77 years, compared with 81.

More than 120,000 men die prematurely in the UK each year.

Football can be a pull, providing a place where [men]can go to have their health delivered - but in a way they feel is on their terms
Alan White
Leeds Metropolitan University

Professor Alan White, of Leeds Metropolitan University, the world's first professor of men's health, who will lead the steering group of Premier League Health, said using sport was ideal to encourage men to engage and improve their health.

"The significance of sport is that a lot of men don't feel comfortable within a health environment. Football clubs are a place that they go to and feel within their comfort zone," he said.

"Trying to get men into counselling, if they have problems, and support services can be a bit tricky.

"Football can be a pull, providing a place where they can go to have their health delivered - but in a way they feel is on their terms."

Premier League Health will see 17 Premier League clubs working with local health agencies like Primary Care Trusts in an attempt to target more than 4,000 men.

Some clubs will put NHS trainers within the stadiums to talk directly to fans on matchday, and, in some cases, they will take referrals from local GPs.

The scheme will aim to tackle issues like depression linked to unemployment, obesity and general poor physical health, as well as alcohol and drug addiction.

Local targets

The project will also encourage men to play more sport and think about training to become football coaches.

Professor White said tackling inactivity and weight gain was an important area.

"We need to think about lack of fitness and football is a strong male cultural opportunity," he said.

As well as boosting general health and fitness, schemes will target health problems in the local areas around the clubs.

London club Fulham will look at sexual health, substance misuse and nutrition, Blackburn Rovers will target men of South Asian heritage and north London's Tottenham Hotspur will go into schools and target fathers of children in Enfield.

Other projects will see Bolton Wanderers targeting the unemployed, those on low income, ex-offenders and men with mental health problems.

Everton will offer matchday MOT health testing, Portsmouth will target issues of obesity and smoking and West Ham United will be giving fans access to a gym at the club for fitness training and health screening.



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SEE ALSO
Footballer's call for cancer care
04 Mar 09 |  Daily Politics
Kicking depression into touch
20 May 06 |  Health
Horsfield reveals cancer battle
10 Oct 08 |  Football
Horsfield given cancer all-clear
03 Dec 08 |  Football

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