Multiple sclerosis is a nasty, lifelong condition that you hope will never come near you or yours. It’s a neurological disorder, and it’s one of those that can occur when the body’s immune system goes awry. It’s probably affecting upwards of 100,000 people in the UK right now.
All those people and their families face an uncertain future: MS is different for everyone. Symptoms can include crippling fatigue, mobility problems, speech difficulties and muscle spasms among many others, but they vary from person to person; MS-free periods can last for hours or years, as can relapses. One of the few things that’s certain about the condition is that we haven’t found a cure.
Some people find they have MS after noticing something going wrong with their eyesight – and that’s what happened to Tom Youngs. Yes, our Tom Youngs, the all-action, probing, darting forward who was a favourite of United supporters between 1997 and 2003. The Tom Youngs whose intelligence shone through on the football field and off it. The Tom Youngs who, while notching 48 goals for the U’s, formed memorable partnerships with the likes of Dave Kitson, Zema Abbey, Ömer Riza and Shane Tudor.
The result is What dreams are (not quite) made of: No fame, no fortune just football … and Multiple Sclerosis, Tom’s newly published account of his life in and after football. Naturally, it majors on his time at the Abbey, where he was welcomed at the age of ten having shone in his hometown of Mildenhall. But it will also interest readers in places like Northampton, Leytonstone and Bury (Lancs, not St Edmunds), where he ground out the rest of a career that – thanks to ill fortune, poor management and too many spells on the physio’s table – never achieved what it had promised.
It’s engagingly written – no ghostwriter needed here – and pleasingly frank. If he thinks a training schedule was badly planned and executed, he’ll tell us, and he’ll name the guilty party. And we’re treated to a cutting assessment of the homophobia, sexism, racism and childishness of football dressing room culture of his time – a culture in which Tom never felt comfortable. Let’s hope more enlightened views prevail today.
He’s unflinching in addressing the MS issue and the ramifications for his family. Tom, his wife Chelle and their daughters do not know what the future holds, but it’s certain that, whatever happens, they’ll face it head on and in a positive frame of mind. This most articulate of men has done those who research, work with and live with MS a great service – and given the rest of us, football fans or not, a cracking read.
What Dreams are (Not Quite) Made of: No Fame, No Fortune, Just Football ... and Multiple Sclerosis is published by Vertical Editions (Skipton) at £14.99 (hardback).