Football.Cancer.Life.Death: Burnley author's story of following the Clarets whilst battling cancer

"I'm not really into books; I don't read that much," admits Burnley fan-turned author Michael Heinicke. "But I've written one." Michael, after all, had a story to tell.

Monday, 4th November 2019, 11:24 am

Football.Cancer.Life.Death offers readers a rare thing: a heady combination of life-shattering realism and heart-warming hope. Telling the story of Michael's travails with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer which originates in the body's disease-fighting network, following his diagnosis in 2014, the book strikes a chord.

Michael was born in Burnley in 1981 and has always supported the Clarets. He went to his first game on the Turf at the age of six and has seen his beloved team grace the pot-marked pitches of the fourth tier and the velvet hallowed turf of Wembley.

"I'd rather be a Burnley fan than any other team," said Michael, 38. "Burnley Football Club is special and I've always felt that we're a bit better than everybody else because we're a bit more real. We're probably the most successful 'real' football club in existence. The whole ethos and spirit of the club is great."

Michael this year.

Twelve years ago, Michael moved to Northern Ireland and so doesn't get to Turf Moor as much as he once did. But living across the Irish Sea has opened his eyes somewhat.

"Where I live, loads of people support Manchester United and Liverpool and I feel pity for them, supporting brands," said Michael. "Lots of other football clubs' owners have no connection, but I have three shares in Burnley. That's great. We've had a few bumps but we've had more promotions than relegations and we've got better and better."

Football.Cancer.Life.Death tells of everything from Michael's medical appointments and chemotherapy treatment to the curve-balls thrown at you as a 32-year-old father-of-three diagnosed with cancer. Busting a few cancer myths and showing that an unfathomable diagnosis can be positive in its own way, the book is all about beating cancer the Burnley way by following a Sean Dyche mantra.

"Following Burnley during treatment was a massive outlet," explained Michael. "Football's normally the focal point of the week anyway so when you've got everything else going on, it's a fabulous distraction, especially when it's going well. When I got diagnosed in February 2014, we won the next three games. The day after diagnosis, we beat Nottingham Forest 3-1.

Michael on the day of his first chemo session in 2014.

"Dyche was an inspiration with his positive attitude," continued Michael. "You look for role models, and he was coming out with a one-game-at-a-time mantra and I was dealing with the cancer in the exact same way. The cancer had no impact at all on me: there were times when I was thinking more about tomorrow's match at Birmingham than the treatment."

The notes Michael made during his treatment - "a load of scruffy handwritten scribbles," in his own words - formed the backbone of the book, and given those notes include titbits on why chemo sessions are similar to football matches and on what happens when you take your football coaching badges whilst undergoing cancer treatment, the end result is a seriously good tale.

To top it all off, it comes with a happy ending, too: Michael was in full remission from the cancer by September 2014 and deemed medically cured of his cancer in October 2019. And during that time, Michael has watched the Clarets go from the Championship to the Europa League.

Football.Cancer.Life.Death is published by Pitch Publishing Ltd.