Fernando Ricksen was a hero to all Rangers supporters. A player we loved and a player who grew into an incredible player who captained Rangers to the ultimate glory of lifting the title on Helicopter Sunday in Leith fifteen years ago yesterday.
Fernando was someone I dealt with several times in my old role as night manager at the old Menzies hotel in Glasgow city centre. He was charismatic, charming and extremely polite. As an excited young supporter I greeted him like a hero and introduced myself as a Rangers supporter, a few days later he would return to the hotel and give me two tickets for Dunfermline versus Rangers at East end Park. Rangers would win 0-6 and Fernando would score that day.
In this blog I will share a preview into Fernando’s book – Fernando Ricksen; The final Battle. I would personally thank Vincent De Vries and Veronika Ricksen for their contact, willingness and permission to share this with the Rangers support.
You can pre-order Fernando’s book here with part proceeds of book going to Rangers charity Foundation https://fernandothebook.com/?v=79cba1185463
Fernando Ricksen: The final Battle
September 26, 2013: Death sentence
“Hey Vincent, I have to tell you something.”
“I told you about my sore back, right?”
“And I also told you that I thought it was about that previous hernia, remember?”
Once again I nod.
“Well, it’s not. It’s something else. I have MND. At least: they think I have MND.”
He is serious. Dead serious. This is not the Fernando Ricksen I know. He even whispers, at times. The bravado has gone. He tells me that he has visited a neurologist. Edwin Jansen, Fortuna Sittard’s club doctor, had told him to do so. Jansen simply didn’t trust it. He had seen how Fernando walked and talked during and after the testimonial for his former team mate Mark van Bommel. It didn’t feel good, to him. It was suspicious. Hence the advice to see a specialist.
“Obviously it came as a complete shock. But the worst bit of it all was…”
I say nothing.
“…the way he said it. Stone cold.”
“What do you mean?”
“He didn’t wrap it in words, you know. It was just: smack, bam, you have MND and that’s a deadly disease. Just like that. No build-up, nothing. You are sick and you’re gonna die. It could have been a little bit more subtle, don’t you think?”
I nod. But I still don’t say anything. What can I say? MND, yes, I heard about it. I know the posters, that once in a while appear all over the Netherlands. Photos of deceased people, who ask you to continue fighting the battle that they have lost. Very confronting, but at the same time: not really something that has been at the forefront of my mind. Because I don’t know anyone who is suffering from MND.
Correction: I didn’t know anyone who is suffering from MND.
But I do now.
“It’s something to do with the muscles,” he says, as we are trying to enjoy a cup of coffee at Atelier 84, a little cafeteria in Maaseik, Belgium, not far from his home. “But I don’t know the details…”
I look at him. For the first time since I met him, I don’t know what to say.
“Just google it at home,” he says. Then, full of self-confidence: “It’s gonna be alright. Trust me.”
“Do you really think so?” I ask.
“Yeah, why not? I mean: I feel quite good. It’s just… It’s just that bloody voice of mine. Makes it sounds worse than it actually is. It’s starting to drive me up the wall.”
Yes, that voice. The sound of a drunkard. I had noticed it as we were finishing Fighting Spirit, his highly acclaimed autobiography. All of a sudden, talking wasn’t as easy as it should beanymore.
“Drives me fucking crazy,” he continues. “Same for the swallowing. That’s giving me trouble too. But apart from that, I don’t feel sick. And remember: it’s just an assumption. In a month’s time I’ll have a second opinion, at the medical university of Utrecht. Maybe they will draw a different conclusion.”
He asks the waitress to bring him another bottle of mineral water. Then he wants to know what the situation is with the book presentation, five weeks from now at RKSV Minor in the tiny Dutch village of Nuth. Minor, nomen est omen, is the modest amateur side where the former professional started playing a few weeks ago, together with his brother Pedro.
“Fine,” I say. “Mark van Bommel will receive the first copy.”
“I think so.”
“And how many books do I get? Not that I am going to read it. I’m not really, how shall I say it, an avid book reader. Besides, I already know the story and who’s done it, hahaha!”
“But it’s always nice to have a few copies to give away, you know. Do you think I can get, let’s say, twenty? Or wait, make that twenty-five. Winter’s coming and my fireplace needs to be fed!”
This time he laughs even harder.
Typically Fernando, I think. No matter how dark the sky is, he always manages to so see the occasional ray of sun. That’s a quality. Aquality that I don’t have. At least not now, at this very moment. I keep thinking about what Fernando has told me. About this deadly muscle disease. I want to know more about it. And I want to know that ASAP. I’m not going to wait until I’m home, that’s for sure. So the moment Fernando has left the coffee joint to team up with Veronika and Isabella, who are shopping in a nearby street, I grab my phone. And I type that ominous abbreviation.
I immediately don’t like what I read.
Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is an uncommon condition that affects the brain and nerves. It causes weakness that gets worse over time.
And, the part that really shocks me:
There’s no cure, but there are treatments to help reduce the impact it has on your daily life. However, at this very moment, not a single patient has survived.
And there you have it. MND isn’t a disease. It’s a death sentence.
I start to swear, but not loud enough for the waitress to notice it.
As I leave the place, I remember what Fernando told me a few weeks ago. How he had trouble lighting a cigar. As if he didn’t have enough strength to use a lighter.
It now makes sense.