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Football and sport have the power to enrich our lives.. but nothing is more important than life itself

“SOME people believe football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much more important than that.”

Those words from the great Bill Shankly have resonated over the years but without wishing to dilute his remarkable legacy, our own health and happiness does mean everything.

Dortmund's ex-West Ham ace Sebastien Haller announced he is cancer free

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Dortmund’s ex-West Ham ace Sebastien Haller announced he is cancer freeCredit: Getty
Wales star David Brooks is back to near his best after Hodgkin lymphoma

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Wales star David Brooks is back to near his best after Hodgkin lymphomaCredit: Getty

It is, in truth, more important.

Former West Ham star Sebastien Haller has just announced he is free from cancer after a long battle and, hopefully, he can continue to excel at the highest level for Borussia Dortmund and Ivory Coast.

Just last month, 29-year-old  Haller scored the winner as his country beat Nigeria 2-1 in the  Africa Cup of Nations final.

His illness just shows this can happen to kings, princesses, paupers as well as players.

In the last few weeks, our own King and the Princess of Wales have bravely announced they are fighting cancer.

Both can be assured the nation is backing them in their battle.

They have shown class and composure in dealing with  the worst life  can throw at them and they are not alone. As well as Haller,  Bournemouth and Wales winger David Brooks is proof of what can be done.

Now on loan at Southampton, the 26-year-old star has been cancer-free for nearly two years.

Brooks admitted football paled into insignificance when he fought back from stage two Hodgkin lymphoma.

When he made his first-team comeback for the Cherries he was cheered to the rafters by both sets of supporters at Aston Villa.

Sebastian Haller breaks down and fights back tears as he opens up on battle with testicular tumour at award ceremony

Like Haller, Brooks is bouncing back and came on as a second-half sub this week as the Welsh went within a whisker of qualifying for this   summer’s Euros.

Proving that cancer can strike  anyone, it even afflicted one of the modern-day greats, Arjen Robben.

The flying Dutchman won accolades galore in the game but for the first time in his life football came second when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, having found a lump.

That was 20 years ago.

Mercifully, Robben, now 40, survived and went on to enjoy a stellar career at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, winning the league in all  three countries.

At the time of his diagnosis, Robben said: “Football is no longer important.

“The most important thing is to be healthy and for your family to  be healthy.”

And so say all of us. In the women’s game, former Arsenal star Jen Beattie, 32, overcame breast cancer to enjoy a glittering career, while New Zealand’s 30-year-old Rebekah Stott successfully battled stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma.

But perhaps the most eye-catching has been Colombia’s 19-year-old  sensation Linda Caicedo, who lit up last summer’s World Cup just four years after overcoming ovarian cancer.

Arjen Robben is another leading name to recover from cancer

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Arjen Robben is another leading name to recover from cancer
Rebekah Stott successfully fought stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma

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Rebekah Stott successfully fought stage 3 Hodgkin lymphomaCredit: Getty

Sadly, for every happy ending there is a tragic one and the cruel, early death of West Ham’s own Dylan Tombides is one of the saddest times I will ever experience at the club.

Dylan fought to the very end but at the age of just 20, testicular cancer took his life.

West Ham have only ever retired two shirts — and Dylan’s is one of them. The No 38 will never be worn.

It is a fitting tribute to a wonderful young man, who died almost exactly ten years ago.

The other shirt, of course, is No 6 and belongs to the great Bobby Moore.

Testicular cancer first struck him two years before he led England to World Cup glory in 1966.

Bobby heroically overcame that illness but cancer returned and, in 1993 and aged  just 51, we lost our national treasure.

Football and sport have the power to enrich our lives.

But more important than life itself? I don’t think so.

As they say, health isn’t everything but without health, everything is nothing.

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