Rest in peace, Dale Roberts
Rushden and Diamonds and England C goalkeeper Dale Roberts has passed away at the age of 24. Rushden and Diamonds may not be a league club but, quite frankly, who cares? I felt the need to write something and this is where I’m putting it. My thoughts are with Dale’s family, friends, colleagues and team mates.
I can’t offer an exhaustive obituary. The main reason I am writing this is as some sort of cathartic experience. If I get it down in words, maybe it will help me come to terms with the fact that people younger than me die.
I saw Dale play a few months ago. As it happens, he played well and kept a clean sheet. In that sense, at least, my own little memory of Dale is of a sportsman playing at a level I could only ever have dreamed of playing at and excelling.
I find it difficult to deal with death. Any death. There are some people who seem able to differentiate between a death that affects them and one that doesn’t. They make jokes about the deaths of famous people or are simply able to forget about one after hearing of it.
I am not judging those people. Sometimes I wish I could do the same, but death always affects me regardless of whether I have ever known, met, seen or even heard of the person who has passed away.
So maybe it helps to write about it.
The more parallels or connections there are with my own life, the more it hurts. There are lots of people who will feel the same. Lots of young people, perhaps men in their twenties, waking up in England, perhaps Northamptonshire, this morning. Perhaps they have an interest in football. Perhaps they saw Dale play. I meet every perhaps and it hurts.
It hurts because death is not just a tragedy that happens to someone else. It is a reminder of what will come to you eventually. And 24 is far too early for this to happen. I’m two years older than Dale and I haven’t done everything I want to do in life yet. No-one should have done by the time they are in their mid-twenties. And no-one should have to. Sadly, the reality is different.
Part of the reason I feel the need to write this is because of the changing nature of people’s reactions to death. In these days of social media, we can read of a terrible tragedy such as this, click a button and spread news of it among tens, hundreds, thousands of people. But it feels so cold and clinical. Yes, I read about it. Yes, I re-tweeted it. Maybe it will make me feel better if I write this, though. It probably won’t.
When I saw Dale play, he got a dog’s abuse from the opposition supporters. I would imagine he got it most weeks so it doesn’t really matter which club they supported. The volume of abuse was accentuated by the fact their players couldn’t find a way past Dale in Rushden’s goal and, for that reason, perhaps it spurred him on to block it out or to perform even better.
I don’t know. What I do know is that there are supporters up and down the country who will read of this news and remember the name. Maybe you shouted something at him. Maybe this news is hurting you too. Banter is all part of the game. I’m no killjoy. Go mad with it. Enjoy yourself. But sometimes people don’t deserve vitriolic abuse and Dale certainly didn’t appear to.
Dale also played for England C. As I mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t have to have achieved everything you want in life before you hit 30. You should get more than twice as long as that, but Dale didn’t and he still managed to represent his country playing the sport he loved.
That is what I will remember, thankfully, not the dog’s abuse he received on a Tuesday night at Nene Park. I will remember the fact that Dale achieved something in his short life and I will bear that in mind when I continue about my business today and tomorrow and for some time to come.
Because it is easy to make tenuous links with people to try and make yourself feel better about how much it hits you to learn of their passing, but it is harder to learn from the news and make sure you get the best out of life. Particularly when you never know how long that life will be. Some are far too short.
For anyone reading this who may support Rushden, or Dale’s former club Nottingham Forest, or know Dale in any capacity, my thoughts are well and truly with you.
Rest in peace, Dale Roberts.