SPORT NEWS
Martin O'Neill gave John comfort in his final days

WEMBLEY HERO: John Bookbinder walks off the Wembley pitch with Manchester City manager Tony Book in 1986 after a five-a-side match

THE tragic story of John Bookbinder is featured in a new book on Manchester City.

Authors Phill Gatenby and Andrew Waldon trace City's infamous 1986 FA Youth Cup team in Teenage Kicks.

Among the players to lift the trophy were future first-teamers Ian Brightwell, Andy Hinchcliffe, Paul Lake and Steve Redmond.

John, who was born on September 14, 1968, used to go to Maine Road with his older sister Susan.

"Having proved himself as an outstanding left winger with Derby Boys, his signature was much sought after and it was no surprise when - in true Jimmy Grimble style - he rejected Manchester United to sign for the team he supported, Manchester City," radio broadcaster Susan says in the book.

As a City trainee, he was under the leadership of Tony Book and Glyn Pardoe.

He made his Lancashire League debut at Tranmere Rovers on November 2, 1985 - and scored in a 2-1 victory.

He made his reserve team debut as a substitute on April 23, 1986 against Huddersfield Town.

Although he was an unused sub for the second leg of the Youth Cup final, he did score the winning goal at Wembley in a five-a-side match against Chelsea before the Full Members Cup final.

In the Youth Cup final, City were 3-1 winners on aggregate over close rivals Manchester United.

But the family was shocked when City released John.

"My mother tried to persuade him to go to other clubs and she took him to both Leicester City and Derby County," Susan recalled, "but he had lost all his confidence and his burning desire.

"Instead, he turned to the only other thing he knew about earning a living and that was working in pubs and bars.

"Years later, his consultant at University College Hospital London, stated that it was working in such an environment that the mouth cancer - which eventually killed him - may have started."

John continued to play football on an amateur basis and played semi-professionally for Belper Town.

Susan added: "He trained as a social worker and was very successful. I remember meeting him in central London after he was first diagnosed and every street urchin and cardboard box person seemed to know him, coming up to him and greeting him as a good friend and with respect - the same respect John showed them regardless of their background or current circumstance.

"At the time he was told he had cancer, he was also working as a street performer and had developed quite a following at Glastonbury and the festival scene for an alternative wedding ceremony he'd developed, in which he had 'married' Kate Moss and The Libertines singer, Pete Doherty.

"The year that followed John's diagnosis, which was to be his final year, was the most horrifying and unbearable one. John underwent the strongest doses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy a man can take."

She continued: "Throughout the gruelling treatment, he continued to try to work as a street performer, juggler and amateur boxer. All the time he was contemplating how he would make a living if the worst would come and he would have to face the removal of his tongue."

Susan talks movingly in Teenage Kicks about the horrors that awaited her brother.

She wrote: "On October 26, 2005, he was taken into hospital after a projectile bleed from the main artery in his throat. Having watched our mother die from breast cancer some years before, I remember this feeling coming over me and looking at my little brother and realising 'Oh no, this is it, he's not coming out of here'.

"John had a tracheotomy that day. Eleven operations followed including the removal of his tongue, larynx and voice box as the cancer tried to match his strength and courage. Even the ability to cry out in the constant pain was taken away. My brother was so incredibly brave, not only suffering in the silence forced on him, but actually, for us, smiling through it."

HAPPY MEMORIES: John Bookbinder with his daughter Ella, aged about four, and sister Susan in the mid-1990s

Susan, who was working for ITN at the time, was told six times that her brother had just hours to live, but each time he showed strength to survive, earning the nickname The Cat.

She recalls meeting football manager Martin O'Neill in the lift at the hospital.

O'Neill had given up his job as Glasgow Celtic manager to look after his ill wife Geraldine.

He recognised Susan from her previous job at BBC Radio Five Live.

"He came over to comfort me," she recalled. "When I told him about John, he said he remembered him from the City youth team and that he used to go to Maine Road with Gordon Strachan to watch the kids and he said he remembered John's superb left foot.

"I was so desperate to get to John, I didn't really take in that he had promised to come up and see my brother one day and if I had, I kind of thought he would have had enough on his plate with his wife being so ill and just dismissed it as a kind thought.

"So after John survived yet another bleed, I was amazed to walk in to see him on the morning of Sunday, December 4, 2005 surrounded at his bedside by Martin O'Neill and Gordon Strachan and our dad.

"They were chatting away about the old days and how Manchester United had been so worried by the City youth squad of the day and John was writing notes back to them on his writing board which you could wipe clean, which was his only form of communication."

That day, City were away at Charlton Athletic, in a game being shown by Sky.

Despite doctors trying to stop them, they took John across the road from the hospital to the Grafton Hotel on Tottenham Court Road so he could watch City win 5-2 on TV.

Within days, John was discharged from hospital to die at home.

"His suffering hit a new level and to this day, I can't talk, write or think about what he went through," Susan said. "All I can say is that, with Martin O'Neill's help, for John, it really was a case of 'City Til I Die'."

John died on January 9, 2006.

Teenage Kicks: The Story of Manchester City's 1986 FA Youth Cup is published on Monday by Empire, priced 10.95.


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