IT WAS four years ago, as Bedford Town prepared to host Charlton Athletic in a prestigious pre-season friendly, that Steven Jackman and the Eagles’ then-physio Chris Gibbons knew something was seriously wrong.
“I was looking forward to captaining the side against Championship opposition,” says Jackman, the former Histon defender by this stage enjoying his third spell at Bedford. “I’d got double vision in my right eye and was absolutely knackered.
“We were midway through pre-season, but I didn’t feel I was getting any fitter and my touch wasn’t coming back, as it usually did as the sessions went on.
“Chris did some tests and said, ‘There’s no way you’re playing against Charlton’. I went to the hospital and didn’t come out for a week.”
Doctors found Jackman had brain damage caused by scar tissue sitting on the cerebellum region, which controls the spinal cord. At 27, the PE teacher had played his last game of football.
He could run a mile in less than six minutes, but all his control, co-ordination, stability and balance on his right side was starting to be affected, though medics could not diagnose his exact problem.
For three-and-a-half years, as he moved from player to Bedford’s coaching staff and left his job at Stevenage’s Barnwell School to move into educational recruitment, he was none the wiser until last January, when told he had secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.
“It came as a bit of a shock as it’s the worst kind of MS, continuously downhill, but at least I knew what it was that was causing so much fatigue, which is my biggest ailment,” says the man known as ‘Jacko’.
Having left Bedford, he joined Spartan South Midlands Premier club AFC Dunstable in March and continues to coach under manager Steve Heath.
“The lads give me some stick and I give plenty back,” he laughs. “I can’t do any live demos because I walk with a limp and I’ve got severe muscle wastage on my right leg, but then you have to make your explanations and instructions really clear, and the lads seem to respond to me.”
In more ways than simply what they produce out on the Creasey Park pitch. The OD’s winger Lee Stobbs works for GQ Magazine, who send him out to undertake extreme challenges and report back.
The next – a 170-mile run from one end of the Grand Canyon to the other in seven days – has been renamed ‘Jogging for Jacko’, as friends look to raise funds to buy Jackman a specially adapted car with swivel chairs and left-foot accelerator.
“My girlfriend Bianca (pictured) was the physio at Bedford, and I persuaded her to come with me to AFC Dunstable,” says Jackman. “Lee was in with her before our final game of the season and he said he’d been looking at charities to raise money for, but wanted to do it for me.
“I’ve only known the lad six months and I was so overwhelmed I didn’t know what to say. I started welling up. He set a target of £4,000 and he’s already well on the way to getting it.”
The Lion pub in Jackman’s home village of Waddesdon have teamed up with the cricket club he used to play for to raise more funds, while Bedford’s Supporters’ Club have organised a match for Sunday, October 5, with a Jacko XI taking on a Bedford side at The Eyrie.
“I still see a personal trainer every week, my old Bedford team-mate Jamie Cole, I go to the gym and try to be as active as I can be,” adds Jackman. “I’m hoping it won’t come to me needing a wheelchair, but another ex-Bedford boy, Jon Woolf, is a tennis coach and I’m trying out wheelchair tennis with him.
“I played at AFC Wimbledon, so I thought I might give it a try to get to play at the real Wimbledon!”
Already an ace to many, the remarkable Steven Jackman has a new goal – and you wouldn’t back against him doing it!
*Donations for Lee Stobbs’ ‘Jogging for Jacko’ effort can be made via www.gofundme.com/a90lws
CAPTAIN ANDY HAS AIRBUS FLYING HIGH
LOST in among the Welsh Premier’s annual one-week Europa League jolly was a remarkable effort from Airbus UK Broughton and a manager who always seems to do a good job wherever, and at whatever level, he works.
Andy Preece might carry the title of the Wingmakers’ director of football, but a gaffer the 47-year-old most definitely still is.
The ex-Crystal Palace striker has been a manager since being handed the reins as Bury player-boss in what is now League One in 1999.
He led Worcester to an FA Cup second round tie with Huddersfield in his next job, then Northwich to victory over Charlton in another clash televised live.
He’d taken over as Vics manager towards the end of their disastrous 2008-09 Conference campaign, and almost kept them up with a run of seven wins and a draw in their last nine games, despite having a threadbare squad to pick from.
Mid-table in the North in 2009-10 meant nothing as Vics were expelled from the Football Conference, then runners-up to big-spending Chester in the Northern Premier equally amounted to zip as Jim Rushe’s circus was told to pack up their big top and leave that division, too.
So he went off to a three-year contract at Airbus, and all of us over the border scoffed.
He might not have broken TNS’ stranglehold on the title, but the tiny club – with their ex-NPL squad – have qualified for Europe as runners-up twice.
Last week, while Bangor and Aberystwyth were crashing to embarrassing 8-0 and 9-0 aggregate defeats, Preece’s men ran Norwegians FK Haugesund to within a second away goal of going through.
A club with a £6m wage bill – akin to a Championship side’s budget over here – were on their knees through exhaustion and relief at the end.
There are many good managers out of work. Preece, who also coaches Blackpool’s Under-15s, might as well be in the eyes of English chairmen, who wonder what he’s been doing in recent years.
The answer is, doing what he’s always done – a solid job with limited resources waiting to be given the chance to step back up the English Pyramid again.