Robbie Savage pays tribute to 'The best dad in the world' after his father passes away
Published 11:23 17/03/12 By Steve Anglesey
For three years Robbie Savage saw his beloved father fade in front of his eyes, a devastating disease gradually stealing his hero away from him.
His devoted mum Val spent every hour caring for dad Colin until, last Saturday, he finally lost his battle for life.
The Daily Mirror columnist and Strictly Come Dancing star was at his father’s bedside as he died from pneumonia after a long fight against Pick’s disease, similar to Alzheimer’s. Last year, in another cruel blow, he had also been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Former Premier League star Robbie, 37, said: “Anyone who’s experienced Pick’s or Alzheimer’s knows that it doesn’t just claim one victim. The other one who is left to care is a victim too.
“In the last three years dad should have been in a home but my mum, who idolised and loved him for 40 years, refused to let that happen. She cared for him 24/7, like her mum did for my grandad. It has been a horrendous time for her.
“In a way it is my dad’s last gift to her that she gets her life back again. She doesn’t see it that way of course – she just wants him back and it is heartbreaking.”
Pick’s disease can be hereditary and Robbie is well aware that one day he may be another victim. He said: “There are tests I could have to see if I am likely to get it.
“But I want to go on living like I do at the moment, as if every day could be my last, just loving life.
“The truth is that I don’t think I’m brave enough to know or brave enough to cope with it in the way dad did.
“It was surreal towards the end. The previous Sunday dad was in a bad way. He couldn’t speak anymore and because of the Parkinson’s he could barely raise his head. But when my mum went to visit him he seemed to be trying to gesture towards the remote control. It took her a while to realise that I was on the TV in his room, doing half-time analysis on Cardiff v West Ham for the BBC.
“He loved sudoku and he was trying to do that every day but it was so hard for him. He had pneumonia over Christmas and we thought we’d lose him then – but he managed to come out of hospital for a short while. He had it twice after that before this final time. From Wednesday we knew it was the end.
“Even though he’d dropped to around six stone, he still had a massive heart and he fought it all the way.”
A regular on social networking site Twitter, Robbie mapped out Colin’s final hours in a series of emotional tweets from Maelor hospital in Wrexham. Last Friday he told his 700,000 followers: “Dad is still fighting but has slipped into a coma... If you’re with your dad now give him a kiss and tell him you love him, ’cos they won’t be here for ever.”
On Saturday he tweeted: “I’m devastated to tell you at 2 o’clock this morning my hero, my father and my best friend lost his life. He was so brave. We were with him, he battled for so long. We as a family have lost a great man, we will miss him so much, he never complained once.”
Colin, a successful factory manager, was diagnosed with the condition just as he should have been enjoying the fruits of his son’s career in the top flight with Leicester, Birmingham, Blackburn and Derby. Robbie said: “Dad wanted to keep working even when I started making decent money but six or seven years ago I persuaded him to retire. I gave them some money but dad had saved a lot up too from his own successful career. But once he retired, he’d switch off suddenly.
“Dad always loved a pint at night but soon, when you’d go to the pub with him, people would come up and ask, ‘Is he drinking too much?’ They’d noticed him slur and he could be quite sharp with people.
“It took my mum a lot of pleading, but he agreed to tests and we found out it was Pick’s disease, which affects speech and saliva glands.” Just eight hours after Colin passed away at the age of 64, Robbie appeared in his regular stint on Radio Five Live’s football call-in show 606.
In November last year he did a similar thing after the suicide of Wales boss Gary Speed, weeping as he told stories of playing alongside his close friend.
Some fans were surprised but Robbie said: “My dad was a grafter and he loved football. His funeral is next Thursday and we’ve got the FA Cup anthem, Abide With Me, as one of the hymns. I spoke to my family and they said, ‘He’d have wanted you to go out and talk football’. It was hard, but that’s what I did. I’m a believer in God but with Gary Speed and now dad, you wonder why bad things happen to innocent and good people.”
However, in a way, he still feels blessed. “I’ve got friends who lost their fathers suddenly,” he said. “My cousin’s dad died of a brain tumour when Matt was only a baby and it is devastating. So in a way I feel lucky that I didn’t have that. You’ll never fully prepare for a parent dying but at least we could see it coming.”
Robbie – married to Sarah with two young sons Charlie and Freddie – says he will increase his charity fundraising as a tribute to his father and those who guided him through his final hours.
He said: “The last few days made me more determined to step up my work for the Alzheimer’s Society and I want to do the London Marathon for them next year. The thing with Pick’s disease and Alzheimer’s is, once you have got it, there is nothing you can do. It is the cruellest thing. I want to work harder so it can at least be treatable in the future and maybe one day there’ll be a cure. The nurses were magnificent, so kind. Nothing was too much trouble and they tried to keep our spirits up. It is a scandal what they get paid – they should earn more than footballers.”
But though he is determined to carry on working and raising cash for charity, there are moments when he sounds exactly what he is.
Not the brash multi-millionaire footballer or the perma-tanned celebrity dancer, but a normal bloke who’s lost his hero. He said: “I don’t think I’d have been anything without my dad – not a footballer or a minor celebrity. The work ethic I got from him helped me have a good career with a little bit of natural talent but a lot of drive. Dad was a mechanical engineer and worked his way up to being a European manager for Intercontinental Cans. He had to battle for that because he was colour blind in one eye, but he managed to work his way up to being an important man in the firm. He was involved in the creation of the widget in the Guinness can and travelled around the world – but he was devoted to me and my brother Jonathan.
“Dad was manager of my local kids’ team and he never missed one of my games until his illnesses made it impossible. When I was a kid he would come straight home from work every night and not even get in the front door – I’d be waiting at the window with my kit on, ready for him to drive me out to training. Then we’d get fish and chips on the way home.
“That’s how I’ll always remember him – the best dad in the world.”