Stuart Watson in IPSWICH, England
MACAULEY BONNE has revealed the powerful meaning behind him wearing the No 18 shirt at English League One club, Ipswich Town.
In the early ‘90s, a young couple moved from Zimbabwe to settle in England, to access the required medical facilities for their newly-born disabled daughter.
Ipswich residents took the family into their hearts, raising enough money to buy a special wheelchair, for Laiken.
Unfortunately, she died aged 12, under tragic circumstances.
Her brother, Macauley, was just nine at the time.
And, when the Ipswich Town striker last week met Maddy, a 13-year-old Blues fan, it struck a chord.
Maddy has cerebral palsy and recently underwent emergency brain surgery,
“Meeting Maddy brought back a lot of memories about my sister,” Bonne said in an interview with the club programme.
“When I was a kid and I came on trial at Town, I idolised Darren Bent.
“He was in Chantry occasionally and I bumped into him a few times. So, I had an ‘18 Bonne’ shirt which I wore to my first ever trial here, when it was the EON shirt.
“Sadly, in 2005, my sister, Laiken, passed away.
‘’Something that was precious to me was my Town shirt, so I thought that there was nothing better to give to her, to remember me by, than that.
“When we buried her I put the shirt on her chest and she was holding it, so to this day she’s still got it in her arms. Talking about it gives me goosebumps.
“I don’t speak too often about this kind of subject but seeing Maddy, the other day, brought it back to me a bit.”
Bonne’s winner in Saturday’s 2-1 home win against Shrewsbury made it nine goals, in his first 11 appearances, for the club.
And he’s doing it will the number 18 on his back. “I’ve never really been asked which shirt number I’d want but, in the summer, James Pullen (kit man) asked me which one I would like,” he said. “The number means so much to me and it just felt right.
“It gives me a boost because it’s not just a number to me. It’s not just the fact that it was Darren Bent. It’s something so personal to me and my family.
“With my sister’s name on my body, and the number 18 on my back, I’m proud to be doing what I’m doing and knowing that I’m doing it for her.
“The day I walked out as captain (against Sheffield Wednesday), my uncle and my mum were here.
“I found out I would be captaining the team on the day and my uncle had to leave about an hour in because he was crying – he was so proud.
“It’s a number I’ve always wanted to wear and now that I’m doing well in it, I feel like it’s a sign and it’s my time to show the world what I can do.”
He said meeting Maddy was very special to him.
“It was lovely to meet her. I’ve been that kid who has love for a club and wants to tell the footballers how much I appreciate it,’’ he said.
“It’s so good to have that connection with the fans and let them know that you appreciate them.
“I’ve played in the Championship and international football (for Zimbabwe) but I still just want to be known as a normal guy. That’s the way I try to live my life.
‘’Yes, I have nice things and a nice car but I try to live my life like a normal guy.
‘’If we have a few days off, I’ll take a walk to the local pub, find some random guy and talk absolute nonsense with him. I’m a normal person who just plays football for a living.’’
Many footballers have strange pre-match superstitious rituals, but Bonne might be the first to have one relating to sausage dogs.
“I’ve got a fair bit going on, including getting two more sausage dogs,” he revealed.
“Some people call me crazy, but my partner and I love them. We’ve just adopted Teddy and George to go with Buddy and Bear. We spoil them like they’re kids to be honest.
“We take them to Ipswich Dog Day Care Creche a few days a week and they love it. It’s like picking them up from school when I get there in the afternoon – I’ll arrive at the door and one of them is sat with their head down because they have been naughty!
“I don’t know if people know, but I have small sausage dogs tattooed on the back of my legs and I tap and kiss them before each game.
“It’s part of my routine and I’ve scored in every game I’ve done it, so I can’t stop!”
It’s easy to forget that Bonne is only on a season-long loan from Championship club QPR.
“Getting this club back to the Championship would be right up there for me.
“To put it politely, it’d be showing the people that doubted me that I can do it. I’m scoring goals at the moment and it’s proving to everyone that knocked me over my years in football that I can do it.
“If you give me the chance to play, I will score goals, and that’s a good habit to have. There’s no better feeling than seeing the ball hit the back of the net and seeing all the fans celebrating.’’ — East Anglia Daily Times