Sam Astley turned down his Denmark tickets, saying: “No football game beats saving someone’s life”
Credit: Simon Wilkes/SWNS
An England fan who missed Wednesday’s Wembley triumph to donate stem cells has secured a seat at the Euro 2020 final following a campaign backed by Gary Lineker.
Sam Astley was anticipating the trip of a lifetime after his girlfriend won tickets for the semi-final clash against Denmark, which included an overnight stay at The Dorchester hotel and £500 spending money.
But the 24-year-old, who had signed up to a stem cell register, found himself facing a difficult choice when he was told he was a donor match and the procedure that was needed clashed with the game.
It was not a choice Mr Astley, from Dudley in the West Midlands, had to dwell on for long – and he agreed to forfeit his chance to watch his national team for the first time.
He said: “Life is more important than a football game at the end of the day. No football game beats saving someone’s life.”
After news of his sacrifice broke, a campaign was started to get Mr Astley and his girlfriend tickets to England’s showdown with Italy on Sunday.
One of the campaign’s supporters, Simon Wilkes, 57, said: “I want to try to find them something for the weekend and get them to the final against Italy because he absolutely deserves to be there.”
Thanks for the recognition @GaryLineker & thanks for all the wonderful messages off everyone! I’m glad @AnthonyNolan are getting more exposure so hopefully more people sign up to their register & give others a chance at life. The procedure went well and I’m now recovering 👍 pic.twitter.com/rGamrWxWga
— Sam Astley (@samastley1_) July 8, 2021
Soon the cause was being championed by one of the best-known faces in the English game, the former striker Lineker, who posted on Twitter: “Amazing. Can you help @FA @England?”
Within hours, it appeared a breakthrough was on the horizon, with Vivo, the smartphone company which is one of the tournament’s sponsors, catching wind of the story.
Replying to a tweet from the Anthony Nolan charity, the stem cell register to which Mr Astley had signed up, the company said: “As official sponsor of Euro 2020, we can arrange the tickets for Sam.”
It asked the charity to get in touch with them privately to make arrangements.
Mr Astley, meanwhile, spent Thursday recovering in hospital following his procedure in the morning, which is likely to leave him in discomfort and suffering fatigue for up to a month.
He is also expected to donate a litre of bone marrow.
The side effects did little to temper his excitement that England had reached its first final in a major tournament since 1966.
His girlfriend, Beth Hill, 25, said: “He was put to sleep with a general anaesthetic, then they drilled into his pelvic bone either side to extract the stem cells from there.
“It took half an hour and he came round at 9.30am, so he’s still a bit groggy now.
“Apparently the first thing he said when he came round – he can’t remember but his doctor told me – was [a rendition of] ‘It’s coming home’.”
Hi @samastley1_ and @gemmapeters 👋
We saw this and would like to help Sam go to the final on Sunday. Sam deserves to be at the game and we want to make it happen! #ToPerfectMoments cc. @GMB @AnthonyNolan @GaryLineker @SimonThomasTV @campbellclaret @StourbridgeNews https://t.co/L0BoNihH2G
— vivo Europe (@vivo_europe) July 8, 2021
She claimed her phone “hasn’t stopped ringing” after the campaign to get the couple tickets picked up momentum.
“We hadn’t asked for free tickets – we just wanted to have the opportunity to buy some as they’re like gold dust – but it’s gone mad,” she said.
Speaking from his hospital bed on Thursday, Mr Astley said he had been stunned by the amount of support he had received.
He said: “It’s been going crazy. I’ve been completely overwhelmed and can’t believe it.
“I have never been to Wembley or seen England live, so it would be a dream come true to be at the first major final we’ve been in for 55 years.
“The main thing was having the opportunity to save a life and be able to raise awareness of the charity. To have Gary Lineker’s tweet mention Antony Nolan to his eight million followers could save more lives.”
He added that he would be bed-bound until Friday and will have to “take it easy”, adding: “If I do get tickets for the final, I’ll have to try to be stationary and not jump up and down like crazy.”