Sunday, 28 November 2010

REMF shirt finds a home in New York

On September 11 2001, Brighton fan Robert Eaton was going about his usual day's work on the 105th floor of the World Trade Centre.

But, as the terrorist controlled planes struck, it became clear Robert would never again watch his beloved Seagulls. He wouldn't even make it home. He was one of 2,977 innocent lives which were lost that tragic day.

And, as news of his death spread, friends and fellow supporters were determined the popular Albion fan would not be forgotten.

The Robert Eaton Memorial Fund was formed. A match between Brighton and Crystal Palace supporters set the ball rolling - and in the years since the charity has raised tens of thousands of pounds in Robert's name.

That cash has helped provide football equipment to a host of local junior clubs, as well as Los Peladitos - a youth team in Robert's adopted home.

Closer to home the Seagulls Specials club, which works with disabled youngsters, has been given £7,000 to help with their amazing work, and another eight clubs have benefited from the charity's fundraising.

Coaching For Hope - a charity which uses football to support youngsters orphaned by the Aids epidemic in areas like Cambodia - has been given £3,000, and the charity continues to go from strength to strength.

I didn't know Robert. I wish I had. For the last few years I have played in the annual match-up with Palace. Not having known Robert, I sometimes feel like an impostor.

But being part of the REMF - even in such a small way - has been a privilege. The REMF, quite simply, is one of the best things about Brighton and Hove Albion FC.

For that reason, I took my match shirt - complete with Eaton on the back - to New York on a recent trip.

I visited the site of the World Trade Centre hoping there would be some sort of shrine, or place to leave the top. There wasn't. Instead there was a building site - with ambitious plans to re-build well underway.

That determination is, if anything, a better memorial to those who died. Without coming over all political, it shows that the cowardly terrorism will not win in the same way the REMF is showing that people like Robert will not be forgotten.

A fellow Albion fan had told me about a bar, Foley's, near Madison Square Gardens. The owner, Shaun, collected football memorabilia from around the sporting world.

I popped in with the shirt, hoping they could find room for it. They didn't disappoint.

Shaun and his father John were delighted, particularly when I told them the story behind the top and Robert.

While we were chatting, Shaun asked me to sign the shirt - as is his custom apparently. He then left us talking to John - as lovely an old Irishman as you could wish to spend half an hour chewing the fat with.

In just seven years he said Shaun had collected hundreds of signed baseballs, dozens of football shirts donated by fans from all corners of the globe. The bar even has toilets removed from the hotel which stood on the site of the Empire State Building.

Shaun returned with the shirt, which now hangs pride of place above the main bar. He printed off a little sheet explaining it was worn in the REMF match and spoke of his affection for the Albion - an affection born from a long-standing friend who sadly passed away from cancer.

Death has a funny way of uniting people. Sport even more so.

It may not be much, but it seemed fitting that Robert's shirt had found a home in such a warm, welcoming and sport mad part of his adopted home.

Anyone who visits the Big Apple should definitely pop in an see it. Just remember to take a scarf for Shaun.

Foley's is at 18 and 33(between 5th and 6th Avenues).

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