Sunderland AFC pay tribute to Bradley Lowery on the club homepage. Lowery died in 2017. Faksimile: Sunderland AFC

Until death do us part

Three examples highlights how sport has the power to unite people in difficult times.

Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” Bill Shankly

These words of the legendary Liverpool coach symbolize more than anything else the stories I would like to share with you in this blog. These are mostly stories about unique relationship between a football team and fans in the most tragic circumstances. These stories have a literal meaning of “You Never Walk Alone”.

Rooie Marck and Feyenoord

Rooie Marck was a lifelong supporter of the Dutch club Feyenoord. At the age of 54, he had terminal cancer and only a few days to live. His last wish was to attend a preseason training session of his team, Feyenoord, which traditionally attracts thousands of fans.

His family and friends brought him in his hospital trolley, where a huge surprise was waiting for him. His beloved team payed a tremendous tribute to him when each player of the team personally welcomed him and the huge crowd was chanting his name, lighting flares, unleashing a huge banner of him, and finally singing the famous song “You Never Walk Alone” that was dedicated to Rooi Marck.

He was the real – and the only – star of this event. It was probably the last time he smiled, because he passed away three days later.

Bradley Lowery and Sunderland

Bradley Lowery was a six years old supporter of Sunderland. The team adopted him, while he was suffering from cancer, and hosted him in many games. Moreover, the former England international and one of the biggest stars of Sunderland, Jarmain Defoe, spent many days with the boy also outside the pitch.

This brave friendship gave the little child many happy moments. In addition, it helped raise awareness of neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer that Bradley fought against. Eventually, he lost this fight, but Sunderland players and supporters did everything possible that the kid will have as many positive emotions as possible.

Several days ago, Defoe paid tribute to the kid in his tweet message for Bradely eights birthday: «Me and @gemlowery know you’re having the best party up there today mate. We miss you every day.»

Sean Carmeli and Maccabi Haifa

Sean Carmeli attended almost all the games of the Israeli club Maccabi Haifa. In 2014, he served in the Israeli army as a lone soldier, since his family lived in the USA. During one of the violence escalations, he was killed in the Gaza strip.

According to Jewish tradition, there have to be at least 10 people in the funeral, but since he was a lone soldier, there was a concern that less than ten people would attend. At this point, the management of Maccabi Haifa decided to post a message via social media and called for the supporters of the team to come to the cemetery. As a result, more than 20,000 people arrived to the funeral.

They did not let Sean Carmeli to walk alone.

These examples emphasize the power of sport to unite people in difficult times. We, as a society have to use this power to make people closer. For example, we should remind the politicians that in the ancient Greece there was a ceasefire during the Olympic Games.

I really hope this wonderful tradition will be renewed these days during sports events. If it happens, we have to make sure that these events never stop.

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Professor Alex Krumer:

When I was 6 years old, a strange table with many numbers in my father’s newspaper caught my eyes. I tried to understand the meaning of all these different numbers, which seemed to me as an impossible mission, but I did not give up. It turned out to be a usual table from a sport league that described the number of points, goal difference, etc. Since then, different combinatorial structures and rules of tournaments have fascinated me.