Monday, 19 May, 2004
Football is a sport that is often charged with emotion and attached great meaning. Testimonial games rarely hold such gravitas.
However, that did not hold true for Danny Wallace’s benefit game on Monday night at Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium, where emotion and meaning were at the centre of the occasion.
Wallace, renowned for his electrifying pace up and down the wing, suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and even a few short steps have now become a struggle. Yet, sharply attired and with a broad, beaming smile, he walked onto the pitch, with the aid of a cane, before the match. The crowd, totalling 13,434, may have been sparser than the occasion deserved, but the reception for the Saints’ legend was a rousing one. It was eclipsed only by the ovation for Wallace after the game, where the hair-raising chant of “There’s only one Danny Wallace” brought the old number 11 to tears. Wallace, shunning his cane, applauded all four sides of the ground, before saying: “I am completely overwhelmed. You have made my day.”
The dignity held by Wallace in the face of such a cruel handicap is not only inspirational, but is indicative of a man who has always carried his name and reputation with great pride. The calibre of players that descended on the stadium for the game and the tributes that had poured into the programme notes, from giants of the game such as Sir Alex Ferguson, provided testament to the character of Wallace. Thankfully, he has been told that it is 99.9% certain that his condition will not get any worse, although that still does little to make the situation any less sad.
Wallace has a number of career highlights. He made his professional debut at Old Trafford in a Southampton shirt at the age of just 16 years 314 days, which was the scene of his famous Match of the Day post-game interview, where he received a clip round the ear from manager Lawrie McMenemy for referring to him by his first name rather than as “the boss”. He also scored one of the most magnificent goals ever produced by a Saints player, with a Goal of the Season winning overhead kick against Liverpool in March 1984. In 1986, winning his only England cap, he scored in a 1-1 draw with Egypt. Then, in 1988 against Sheffield Wednesday, he became one of the only set of three brothers in the modern era, along with Rodney and Ray, to play for the same team in the same game. Wallace’s dream transfer then came in September 1989 when Alex Ferguson signed him for Manchester United in a £1.2 million deal, eventually resulting in winners’ medals in both the FA Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup. He can now add his emotional testimonial game of May 2004 to the already impressive above list.
The game between a Saints XI and an All-Star XI, managed by Lawrie McMenemy, ended 2-2, featuring a host of former Southampton and Manchester United stars and other friends of Danny, such as Viv Anderson, Paul Ince, Gordon Strachan, Matthew Le Tissier, Luther Blissett, Jimmy Case and many, many others. Such a vast number of football greats do not just turn up for anyone.
Exactly a year ago on Monday, Southampton played in the FA Cup Final in front of 73,726 people, but perhaps the 13,434 present at St. Mary’s one year later witnessed an occasion of even greater emotion and meaning. For Danny Wallace that is likely the case: “It was a very special night for me and one I will treasure forever. It brought a lump to my throat when they chanted my name and that will stay with me forever.”
Hopefully Monday night’s legend-filled game will have gone some way to easing the pain slightly for Danny and all of the other MS sufferers it will benefit. It was certainly a marvellous occasion for a true legend.
Copyright © 2004, Wessex Scene
Monday, 17 May, 2004
Ex-football players and fans are turning out to support a former star now suffering from a crippling illness.
Former Southampton and Manchester United player Danny Wallace was struck down with multiple sclerosis after a 15-year playing career.
When Southampton FC announced it was to hold a testimonial match for him they were inundated with offers from former players to take part in the game.
The match sees a team of former players take on the current Southampton squad.
Testimonial matches are usually given for players who have been at the same club for more than ten years, to reward their loyalty.
Danny Wallace's brothers, Rod and Ray, will be joined by former Southampton and Manchester United players such as Matt Le Tissier, Paul Ince, Jimmy Case and John Barnes.
Laurie McMenemy, manager of Southampton for their 1976 FA cup win and the man who first brought Wallace to the club, said this was "a testimonial in the true sense of the word".
"Testimonials have lost their value because players are paid so much nowadays, and they can go on to other things," he told BBC News Online.
"Danny's different because he played when wages weren't so high and his work prospects are limited now."
He said Wallace had served the club for 12 years, two-and-a-half as a trainee and nine as a professional.
"He was a very popular player at the club, as a winger you're close to the crowd and they either love you or hate you, he had an infectious smile and people loved that.
"It's a game blessed with fitness so to see a lad struck down with such a disease - it's very sad."
Danny Wallace said: "I am very grateful too for the positive response from the club and all the players. The attitude has been tremendous and the chairman has been fantastic.
"He was not here when I was at the club but I am very grateful for his
support and for giving me the chance to say a proper goodbye and thank
you to the fans."
Copyright © 2004, BBC