‘It was really surreal’ - why I braved the shave for Nick Anderton with Bristol Rovers players and staff’

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Having been invited along by the club’s head of media, Andy Downie, I wanted to show my support for Nick by also shaving my hair off

This time last year, Nick Anderton was celebrating a 2-0 win over Sutton United in League Two. Now he is undergoing chemotherapy for a rare form of bone cancer.

I have been covering Bristol Rovers for BristolWorld since July, and in that time I have seen the Gas rally together for one of their own, highlighted on Monday when the majority of the players and staff shaved their heads in support of their number 16.

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Having been invited along by the club’s head of media, Andy Downie, I wanted to show my support for Nick by also shaving my hair off.

It was a really surreal experience, seeing 40-plus professional footballers and staff crammed into quite possibly the smallest barber shop I’ve ever seen and full credit has to go to the staff of the British Barber Company in Clifton, who shaved heads pretty much non-stop for two and a half hours.

Despite never meeting Nick myself, the photos of him clambering up a lamppost alongside Aaron Collins outside the Royal Oak on Gloucester Road after winning promotion to League One will forever be ingrained in my memory and shows the passion of everyone in that dressing room, a far cry from the team that got relegated a year earlier with a whimper.

This squad atmosphere has carried into this year, and it says a lot about the group of players Joey Barton and his backroom staff have put together when you have players like Josh Coburn, who have never met Nick yet still shaving their heads in support of the 26-year-old.

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A week before the planned shave, I spoke to Paul Coutts ahead of the Gas’ trip to Accrington Stanley. The Rovers captain roomed with Anderton last year, and revealed that Nick felt pain in January, six months before he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his femur, and played the second half of the season in constant discomfort as his side looked to secure promotion back to the third tier.

Similar stories from Sam Finley, who shared a video of Nick on social media trying to foam roll out the tumour before a game, all of the above stuck with me, and I was happy to lose my hair in support of someone who was going through so much more.

Overall, the whole ordeal has shown football as so much more than a game, with football clubs and people all over the country coming together and showing their support for Rovers’ 16, highlighted with one of the barbers being a Bristol City fan, sporting their kit with a ‘16’ on the back.

A GoFundMe was set up to raise money for Nick’s family, and the amount currently stands at £38,000, miles above the original target of £1600 set.

The link to donate: /gf.me/u/33watm

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