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Former Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme: I thought I’d been given a death sentence

By Russell Youll | Wolves | Published:

In the first day of our exclusive serialisation of Why Not Me? – Carl Ikeme’s new book – the former Wolves goalkeeper recalls the day he was given the devastating news that he had been diagnosed with leukaemia.

Carl Ikeme

I had finished the 2016/17 season with a hamstring injury and my last two games were the big wins at Brentford and Fulham which gave Wolves breathing space in terms of getting away from trouble at the lower end of the Championship.

I was having treatment for the last few weeks of the season and then managed to grab a week’s holiday in Spain with my partner Saba, by now heavily pregnant, our daughter Mila, my friend Adam and his partner Michelle and their two children.

It was a good break, but it was while I was over there that Wolves goalkeeping coach Pat Mountain called me to say that Paul Lambert had left.

In football terms I have to say that left me fairly deflated and disappointed.

There had been a couple of difficult years at the club and in Paul I felt we had someone who had steadied the ship and had the potential to get us firing again.

At that stage I had no idea of the impact that Nuno and his staff would have and the investment the club was going to be making during the summer.

Away from that though everything in life was normal, and I felt in good shape, apart from the injury.

When I came back from the holiday I was back in working with the Wolves physios, and, as the hamstring got better, spending a lot of time with former Wolves keeper and Sky Sports pundit Matt Murray, doing additional stuff in the gym.

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I say I felt fit and normal, but looking back now there was probably just something missing, something I couldn’t really put my finger on.

Why Not Me?

I felt okay, and I felt normal, but maybe just not completely at the level that I wanted to be at, certainly for coming back and trying to impress a new head coach and goalkeeping coach.

But still, when I reported back for pre-season I met Nuno and Rui Barbosa for the first time, and set about getting down to work.

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It was then that I started getting a few headaches while I was training.

Again I didn’t worry too much, I’m a fairly big lad and just put it down to getting back training after so long and hitting the floor again with a thump while making saves. My head rattling as I fell to the ground, something that goes with the territory as a goalkeeper.

I had been for a blood test which revealed that my platelets were low but that wasn’t necessarily a problem because my platelets were often a bit low.

Then, the one day, we did a tough session out on the grass and I went straight into the gym afterwards.

When I went back into the dressing room to go to the toilet my nose started bleeding.

Again, I never have nose bleeds, so this was starting to get strange.

For some reason, and I still don’t know why, I went and told the club doctor, Matt Perry.

Normally I wouldn’t tell the Doc stuff, because as soon as you did that, he would probably keep you out of training.

And I never wanted to be kept out of training.

This time I decided to go and tell him, and, sure enough, he told me we would need to keep an eye on it, and we would need to go and see a haematologist.

Was I starting to get worried yet? Maybe a little bit. I did feel that there was something going on, but still thought that it wouldn’t be serious.

The Doc, the consummate professional as ever, came with me to see the haematologist at Little Aston Hospital, and I had some blood tests.

The haematologist was Manos Nikolousis, and he was asking me a lot of questions. Had I been ill? Suffering from a virus? An infection? Could I feel any swelling around my neck?

I remember him saying he was going to check for lymphoma, leukaemia, HIV – in fact he reeled off a whole load of diseases that I was going to be tested for.

Players of Wolverhampton Wanderers and fans with a message for Carl Ikeme of Wolverhampton Wanderers who is receiving treatment for leukaemia. (AMA/Sam Bagnall)

Let’s face it, when you go for any blood test, there is always that feeling of concern about what it might show, so starting to listen to those sorts of diseases being mentioned wasn’t exactly putting me at ease. While we were waiting for the results, I was still kept out of training because there was the worry that, if I did take a whack, my blood might not be able to clot properly.

And yet I didn’t feel ill, and was able to carry on with my normal day-to-day life, going off to Homebase on a Wednesday afternoon to buy some paint as we were doing a bit of work on the house.

Then came the phone call, with Dr Perry on the other end.

When I answered I just assumed it was going to be another of the regular updates he had been giving me while I had been going through the series of tests.

I walked outside so I could hear him properly, and went over to sit in my car.

The Doc started talking, but he had a different tone, quite quiet and sombre.

He mentioned Stan Petrov, and Geoff Thomas, both of whom had battled with leukaemia, and, slowly but surely, I started to understand where he was going.

The Doc told me it was going to be a very tough year for me, and for my family. I can’t remember much else, but he must have made himself clear, because when we finished the conversation I knew exactly what was happening. And exactly what was to come.

And then, I just started crying.

Sat in my car, face flooded with tears. I HAD CANCER.

How was my partner Saba going to cope with such devastating news? She was heavily pregnant as well with our second child. Was I going to be around to see my daughter Mila, so young and innocent, grow up?

How was I going to tell my Mum this dreadful news? My Dad? What would I say? It was so difficult trying to take in all that information when, in the space of a few minutes, my whole world had been completely ripped apart.

All the emotions came flooding in and everything was flying around in my mind and it just felt impossible to make any sense of it.

I guess the best summary is that it was difficult to escape from the thought that the news I had just been given was the equivalent of a death sentence.

So yes, in truth, that was the main thing that I was thinking.

That Wednesday afternoon in the height of summer, sat in my car on the Homebase Car Park?

I thought I was going to die.

Tomorrow: Carl’s early life – and coming up against racism as a young boy in Birmingham and Stone.

Carl’s book – for which he joined freelance journalist and former Wolves press officer Paul Berry – is on sale at the Wolves club shop, and Wolverhampton’s Waterstones book shop.

He will be signing copies at Waterstones on Saturday (12-2pm), and at the club shop on Saturday, December 14 (10am to 12pm) and Thursday, December 19 (5-7pm).

Russell Youll

By Russell Youll
@russyoull_star

Group Sports Editor for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star

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