The Affection For 'Kemes Knew No Limits

Local journalist, Dave Harrison, looks back at Carl Ikeme's emotional presence at Wolves over the last 12 months.

He was never far from our thoughts. Through the glorious days of the 2017/18 Championship-winning season there was an emotional backdrop and a hidden presence.

Carl Ikeme was effectively the 19th man in every game. He was not able to wear the goalkeeper’s jersey for any of those matches but his spirit was there for every single one of them.

His name was chanted endlessly and the giant flag carrying his name, so lovingly created by Telford Wolves, travelled the length and breadth of the land.

From that dreadful day in July when routine blood tests revealed he was suffering from acute leukaemia, Wolves fans were with him every step of the way in tackling the potentially life-disabling condition.

They added their voices, their efforts and their hard cash to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for the Cure Leukaemia charity in his name.

The affection for the man known as Kemes knew no limits. It stretched to Nigeria, his adopted football country, who named him as an honorary member of their World Cup squad. He was remembered when the flag was unfurled at the friendly international between England and Nigeria at Wembley.

He is a big man with a big heart, was always an enormous presence between the goalposts and a towering influence in the dressing room. Even those who had previously not known him personally were moved by his plight.

John Ruddy had to fill the huge gap left by Carl’s illness and he found no comfort in having to be thrust into the role. His initial thoughts were for the man he had to replace.

"This is a bittersweet feeling for me - it is good to be here but the circumstances could have been better,” said John.

"Having played against Carl over a number of years, I know what a good goalkeeper he is so it would have been fantastic for the club to have had us competing and bringing out the best in each other. Now it is a situation where football takes a back seat for Carl and everyone's thoughts are with him."

There was no finer tribute to Carl than the one paid by club skipper Danny Batth, who described him in a tweet as “The bravest, strongest, most Inspirational man I have ever met.”

All that bravery was needed as Carl fought his way through the biggest game of his life. It was no contest really. With the support of his family, friends and the wonderful medical team around him, he came out on top of that personal battle until it was announced he was in complete remission.

It was an emotional season for many reasons – the joyous, breath-taking, stylish football produced by Nuno and his team – but amid all the celebrations, there was always time to share it Carl.

You sensed he was able to share it too, even though he watched from a distance. Through the trauma of his treatment and recovery, there were regular despatches from him via the wonders of social media.

And on the day when the title was celebrated at Molineux at the game against Sheffield Wednesday, the Big Man was able to join the celebrations by way of a message, delivered to the fans on the giant screen.

He said: “Hello everyone, I just wanted to congratulate you all on the fantastic season that we’ve had. I wish I could be there to celebrate with you all but I’m still getting treated and I’m still in recovery. I want to send massive love to the supporters. I hope you enjoy the day. Have a few drinks on me. See you soon.”

I, and many others, read that through misty eyes. As Wolves fans we could feel proud that we were able to stand alongside one of our own at the time of his greatest need and could embrace him from afar during those celebrations.

I am certain a few glasses were raised and pints were sunk that night and among the toasts would have been one for Carl Ikeme.