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Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Footballer Hartson spreads cancer gospel at old school

John Hartson told school reporters he's "feeling positive" after treatment for cancer

Former professional footballer John Hartson, who played for Arsenal, Celtic and Wales, has returned to his old school to raise awareness about cancer, which he has overcome after a year-long battle.

Hartson's life came full circle last week when he returned to his old school after a 13-year playing career and the last eight months battling cancer.

Swansea-born Hartson was welcomed back to Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr in Gowerton, where he spoke to children from Years 9 and 10 about his battle with cancer.

John Hartson meeting children at Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr School
It was nice to go back. I haven't been there for 20 years. The schoolyard and the classrooms seemed so small
John Hartson

The school's Head of Media Studies, Jan Ohlsson Jones, said: "He went down very well. He is a bit of a local hero here. He was very open and very humble."

In July last year Hartson was staring into an abyss.

Bleak outlook

He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer and the prognosis was very bleak.

"It had spread to my lungs and brain and things didn't look good," the 34-year-old told the BBC News School Report.

But after undergoing an intensive course of chemotherapy and several operations, Hartson has now been told he is free of cancer.

He has returned to work as a football pundit on TV and radio and last week his fiancee Sarah gave birth to their fourth child, Stephanie.

John Hartson scoring against Armenia
Begins in 1992 with Luton Town - scores 11 goals
Scores 14 goals for Arsenal
Gets 24 goals at West Ham
Bags 19 goals for Wimbledon
Scores six goals for Coventry City
Gets 88 goals for Celtic
Retires in 2008 after scoring five goals for his last club, West Bromwich Albion
Capped 51 times for Wales between 1995 and 2005, scores 14 goals

Hartson was an old-fashioned centre forward who had a glittering career with Arsenal, West Ham, Celtic and Wales, and scored 181 goals.

He quit the game in 2008, having decided to spend more time with his family, rather than "dropping down the leagues".

"I would have come to Swansea, who I've always supported, but that didn't materialise, so I decided to quit at the top," he said.

He moved back to Swansea - which he left when he was 16 to become an apprentice footballer at Luton Town - and nowadays the only football he plays is in his back garden.

"I have a kickabout with my boy, Joni, who is seven. He is with the Swansea academy," he said.

The children at Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr were keen to know why Hartson had never played for his beloved Swansea City.

They also presented him with a cheque for £430 which had been raised by the school and will be donated to the John Hartson Foundation, which aims to raise cancer awareness and pay for hospital equipment.

Hartson showed the children scars on his head, neck and chest from the operations he has undergone, including one in which his rib had to be deliberately broken.

John Hartson with a pupil
Hartson explained how his ribs were deliberately broken during a lung operation

He also recalled his childhood and told them he was obsessed with football from the age of seven but when he came to Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr he did not play for the school team because at the time they only had a rugby team.

"It was nice to go back. I haven't been there for 20 years. The schoolyard and the classrooms seemed so small," he said.

Raising awareness

Hartson also had a specific message for the boys: "Young men need to keep checking themselves regularly. It's very rare for boys to get testicular cancer but the peak ages for it are 19 to 35."

Although he does not talk of being given the "all clear" by his doctors, Hartson is clearly optimistic about the future and has plenty to look forward to.

He is getting married in the summer to Sarah, who he met while playing for Celtic, and in July - to mark the anniversary of his diagnosis - he is climbing Ben Nevis to raise money for the John Hartson Foundation.

Speaking of the foundation, he said: "Having come through what I have been through it's just something that makes me feel good and I have plenty of time on my hands."

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