Steve Daley has always been one of life’s personalities. Lively, funny, brilliant company.
Even during a hugely successful career, when a move from Wolves to Manchester City for a European record fee of £1,437,500million didn’t work and left him open to vitriol and abuse, his demeanour rarely wavered.
Even amid all the ups and downs, even when adjusting to life post-football, Daley’s cheery outlook has always made him a joy to be around.
But, when Steve Daley was diagnosed with prostate cancer, even he, understandably, had the wind knocked out of his sails.
“It’s that word isn’t it – cancer,” he admits.
“When Mr Mak, the consultant at New Cross Hospital, called me into his office, I’ll be honest, not for one minute did I think he was going to say what he did.
“We think we are invincible, don’t we? Especially men. We think it will never happen to us.
“Mr Mak then started talking about the things they could do and all the different treatment options but by that point I was struggling to take it all in – it’s that word, cancer.
“I was in there on my own as we were looking after one of young grandchildren Cody and so my wife Lyn was waiting with him in the car.
“As I walked onto the car park she got out and she could see tears coming down my face, and she just knew.
“We couldn’t say anything to Cody, and while it was hard, I just got in the car and we carried on as normal, chatting away and drove home.
“From that moment I just thought what would happen, would happen, and I was just going to follow everything that the doctors told me to do to try and make sure I got better.”
This was just over a year ago, and the positive and heart-warming news since is that now, after surgery, Daley is cancer-free.
His sparkle is back, he is returning to his old self physically, and yes, the humour has returned, even during the sometimes-difficult content of this interview.
I mean, he has arranged for us to meet at ‘Medicine’ Bakery in Codsall for pity’s sake! He has certainly had to take his medicine over the last 12 months.
But Daley has a serious message today. A resounding motivation for speaking about his experiences. He wants to raise awareness, to make sure other men are aware of the symptoms and overcome what is sometimes a natural reluctance to seek help. Thanks to the intervention of his GP, Dr Maung at Bilbrook Medical Centre, the talent and dedication of the nurses and professionals across the NHS and the skill of Mr Mak who carried out the operation, there has been a positive conclusion to a really challenging and worrying time.
Yet Daley going to the doctor in the first place, knowing something wasn’t quite right, probably saved his life.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with one in eight being diagnosed in their lifetime, and more than 47,500 every year.
Every 45 minutes one man dies from prostate cancer – more than 11,500 every year – whilst around 400,000 men are living with, and after, prostate cancer.
Many of the symptoms relate to the frequency of urination and pain during urination, and, while Daley wasn’t experiencing that in any major form, it was generally feeling unwell and a sense of tiredness that saw wife Lyn encourage him to visit Dr Maung.
He was given a series of blood tests, and the PCA (Prostate-specific antigen) test came back with a result of 6.2 which, while of slight alarm, was not massively out of range for a man of Daley’s age.
The Doctor however was sufficiently concerned to refer Daley for further assessment under the Urology department at New Cross, and it was an MRI scan and then a biopsy that led to the diagnosis.
Remembering a total of 15 biopsies being taken, the typical humour returns.
“There was a gun involved, going somewhere uncomfortable to take 15 biopsies, and when it got to about ten, I was asking the two nurses whether whatever was up there had started sprinting yet,” Daley quips.
“The nurses were so good, they made me feel really at ease, and also both revealed that their husbands were Wolves Season Ticket Holders.
“I told them to ask their husbands when they got home whether they had ever seen Steve Daley play - and to tell them that even if they had, they hadn’t seen as much of Steve Daley as they had that day!
“In all seriousness they were brilliant, like all the NHS were all the way through – I really can’t thank them enough.”
Later, having received the diagnosis, there followed a further worrying time with scans to discover if the cancer had spread to the bone, which would have led to a far more serious prognosis.
Fortunately, it hadn’t, and from a range of treatment options it was agreed that surgery, removing the cancerous cells which were on the outside of the prostate gland, was the best option.
Having come to terms with what lay ahead, one of the biggest issues for Daley and Lyn was how to break the news to their ever-growing family.
The couple have three children – Kerry, Ryan and Gemma – ten grandchildren, and now, one great grandson, Leo, born just last week, and they all live within about a mile-and-a-half of each other.
Such close proximity and regular contact lends itself to an unbreakable strength and support network which was to prove crucial during Daley’s recovery, but perhaps made revealing the diagnosis that little bit more painful and so close to home.
“Listen, my kids are great and they are always taking the mickey out of me, they are relentless,” he explains.
“But when I told them the news, they were heartbroken.
“We had to be more careful about what we said to the younger grandchildren, but yes, all of that was really difficult.
“After the initial shock though, that was when everyone really came into their own.
“They didn’t act any differently and that was just how I wanted it, and they carried on taking the mickey.
“The house was constantly busy with grandkids arriving and me getting out to walk their dogs when I was able to – it would be like, ‘come on Grandad, let’s go and do this’.
“It was like they worked it to make sure I was never really on my own too much and always had something to occupy my time.”
At the forefront of the family effort was Lyn, whose support was pivotal both in firstly cajoling Daley into visiting his GP and then from that emotional moment on the car park at New Cross.
“Lyn was incredible, and I would have gone to pieces without her,” Daley continues.
“Obviously, even with our large family there were dark days and times when I was very worried, but she did everything she could to keep my spirits up.
“She made sure I didn’t feel sorry for myself, because in that sort of situation, if you don’t stay positive then things can get even more difficult mentally.
“We had the tears, but we also had some laughs, and that was how we managed to get through it all and just make sure we kept going.”
Robotic surgery was carried out near the start of May, after which there was a ten-week wait to discover if all the cancer had been removed.
That was where, as time passed, keeping busy again proved so beneficial as Daley awaited such life-shaping news about what was to happen next.
When the call arrived, the news was good.
“Two-and-a-half months had passed since the operation, during which everything had been going through my mind as to whether it had worked and what would happen if it hadn’t,” said Daley.
“I was told to expect a call from Mr Mak, and he rang and said he was pleased to tell me that I was now cancer-free.
“I was sat in the kitchen on the one chair, with Lyn on another, and it is difficult to describe the feeling of hearing those words.
“I said ‘thank you so much’ to Mr Mak, put the phone down, and by this point I was crying again, and so was Lyn.
“Just waiting for that call knowing it could go either way with so much depending on it, it was such a relief to get the news.
“After that call I was on the phone to all the family, letting them know, and while we didn’t have a celebration event as such, the smiles on faces when we met up – well, that was more than enough of a celebration.”
Daley remains a hugely popular figure among the Molineux fanbase, not just because of his award-winning after dinner speaking routine which has followed his career, but for his exploits during eight years as a professional with Wolves having emerged through Wath Wanderers, their nursery club at the time.
Solid, brave, a wide midfielder with a great engine who was rarely knocked off the ball, Daley also had an eye for goal, notching 43 goals from 244 games and earning England ‘B’ recognition before eventually being coveted so strongly, and expensively, by Manchester City.
Born in Barnsley, Daley later went on to spread his wings and play in America before returning to Walsall, settling as he is now in Codsall and remaining so close to many of his former Wolves team-mates.
He also serves as Vice-Chairman with Wolves Former Players Association and organises the Annual Golf Day at Oxley Park, coming up next week, which raises thousands of pounds for local charities.
One of those former team-mates, John Richards, is Chairman of Wolves FPA, an organisation which has increased its support to former players in recent years.
“It’s so impressive that Steve and Lyn have decided to highlight his diagnosis and help people understand the importance of early diagnosis, especially for men over the age of 50,” says Richards.
“We know Steve has a profile both locally and nationally from his football and his after-dinner speaking and him going public will hopefully have a really positive impact and encourage people, even if they think they only have minor symptoms, to get checked out by a doctor.
“It follows on from other former players such as Geoff Thomas and Carl Ikeme who have gone through their own diagnoses and have since done so much fantastic work to raise awareness.
“There are lots of former players who have had problems in recent years and some who were quite poorly during Covid so it’s important that we all keep checking in with each other to see how everyone is doing even if it is just offering moral support.
“We might all have been fit and healthy footballers in our time but we’re not immune from anything and for my generation we are at an age where we need to make sure we have regular check-ups or go and see someone if something doesn’t seem right.
“That is why it is so important that Steve is doing what he is doing to raise awareness and obviously we are all keen to support him in any way that we can.”
For Daley, he must now return for regular blood tests to keep an eye on his condition but, with the help of daily exercises – “my pelvic floor”, he says with a chuckle – he is feeling physically as good as ever, and also returned to the golf course himself - “I’m still playing as badly as ever, mind you,” he reveals.
But he feels it is hugely important to raise awareness, to support the work of the NHS to whom he is unbelievably grateful, and to encourage others in his position to get checked out when they feel something isn’t quite right.
Prior to Wolves home game with Newcastle on Sunday, from 11am he will be with NHS staff in the Fan Zone outside Molineux, talking about his experiences and highlighting how early detection is so important.
And namely how, whilst he has undergone so many previous operations on knees, hips, achilles, chest and hand due to his life in football, cancer is indiscriminate.
“I played football for 16 or 17 years, training most days, and have kept myself reasonably fit since,” Daley explains.
“Not for one minute did I ever think I’d get prostate cancer and that is my message – it really can happen to anyone.
“No matter who you are, what you do, what you think you can do, if you have any symptoms or feel something isn’t right, go and get it checked out.
“Cancer is indiscriminate, it can affect anyone, and having an early diagnosis makes such a difference.
“For the sake of a few hours and a few tests, it could save your life.
“This has taught me that’s for sure because I used to put things off myself, I’d say ‘I’m alright, don’t worry’.
“Not anymore, anything like this happens again and I’d be at the front of the queue.
“And the support you get from the NHS is fantastic right from the very start – they explain it all so well and make such a difficult situation so much easier to handle.”
Clare Waymont, Consultant Nurse Urology with the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, explains that, as with Daley, most men with early prostate cancer don’t display symptoms due to the way the cancer grows, adding: “You’ll usually only get early symptoms if the cancer grows near the tube you urinate through (the urethra) and presses against it, changing the way you wee.
“But because prostate cancer usually starts to grow in a different part (usually the outer part) of the prostate, early prostate cancer doesn’t often press on the urethra and cause symptoms.
“If you do notice changes in the way you wee, it is likely to be caused by a non-cancerous problem such as an enlarged prostate, but you definitely should never ignore these symptoms and should always seek advice from your GP.”
Those changes include difficulty starting to urinate or emptying your bladder, a weak flow when you urinate, a feeling your bladder hasn’t emptied properly, dribbling urine after you finish urinating and needing to urinate more often, especially at night.
As Daley prepares to join the NHS at Molineux on Sunday to pass on his own experiences and highlight the importance of early intervention, he does so admitting that while he has always aimed to make the most out of life, he now enjoys everything just that little bit more after the last year.
“I’ve always enjoyed life but this has certainly brought me down to earth with a massive bang and made me realise what’s important,” he explains.
“It has reinforced the importance of our family network; they have all been so brilliant and helped me through.
“All that driving the grandkids to football and other places, walking the dogs, I enjoy it that little bit more now – bring it on!
“At the same time, I know other people are not as fortunate as I have been and I feel lucky which is why I am also so keen to raise awareness.
“If highlighting what happens to me makes just one person go and get checked out then it will all have been worth it.”
Steve Daley. Lively, funny, brilliant company. And now very much focused on doing his bit to help others as well.