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Matt Duke: Cancer, Unemployment and Wembley

SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 28 Jan 2013, 21:37 IST
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Lance Armstrong, considered one of the greatest cyclists ever, recently admitted to doping and said that his desire to win was so strong that it made him do things he might regret for the rest of his life. Armstrong made waves for his record seven Tour de France wins, and the fact that he achieved these triumphs after successfully fighting off third-stage cancer. I remember reading Armstrong’s autobiography ‘It’s not about my bike’, and his will power inspired me to better mine. But after recent developments, I find scepticism creeping into my thoughts whenever I read something extra-ordinary. Yet, there are some, whose bravery and fight are not advertised around the world, some who quietly go about doing their job, some who value winning but are not obsessed by it. Bradford City goal-keeper Matt Duke is not a world famous player, but he is someone who ticks all the above boxes.

BRADFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11:  Goalkeeper Matt Duke of Bradford in action in the penalty shootout during the Capital One Cup quarter final match between Bradford City and Arsenal at the Coral Windows Stadium, Valley Parade on December 11, 2012 in Bradford, England.  )

BRADFORD, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 11: Goalkeeper Matt Duke of Bradford in action in the penalty shootout during the Capital One Cup quarter final match between Bradford City and Arsenal at the Coral Windows Stadium, Valley Parade on December 11, 2012 in Bradford, England. )

Bradford City hosted Arsenal in a quarter-final clash in the Capital One Cup at home. The team had punched way above its weight and reached all the way to the quarter-finals. Winning was secondary for the fans, as the moment itself was bigger than anything they had ever experienced. The players however, were determined to fight, and so was Matt Duke. Born in Sheffield, Duke grew up to be a Sheffield United fan and was signed by the club around his 22nd birthday. The move however was not fruitful, as he was sent out on loan and never represented Sheffield officially. His most successful period as a player came at Burton Albion, for whom he was a regular for four years, before being signed up by Hull City.

At Hull, Duke had a largely frustrating time, as he was always a cover for first-choice Boaz Myhill and spent seasons away at loan at Derby, Wycombe and Stockport County. Duke was solid in goal whenever called upon, and even saved a penalty on his Premier League debut against West Ham. In 2007, Duke was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent a surgery in January ’08 to have it removed successfully. He resumed playing in March after recuperating from the surgery and a thigh injury. A lot of time on the bench saw his value depreciate, and in 2011 he was released by Hull. Matt was unemployed and had to give trials just to keep the wages coming in. After an unsuccessful trial with Sheffield, he joined Bradford on transfer day deadline in August ’11, and has been a regular for the team since the start of the 2012 season.

Duke was never the outstanding talent that caught the eye of fans with his dazzling displays, nor was he lucky enough to get a big break. But the man was a fighter in every sense of the word. This was shown when he fended off wave after wave of Arsenal attack in the Capital One Cup game and won his team the match in what is considered one of the greatest upsets ever in English football. The fairytale however had not finished, and Bradford then toppled Aston Villa to book a place in the final.

Goal-keeper Matt Duke has gone from having one leg in the coffin, to not knowing how he would make ends meet, to playing a cup final at Wembley, English football’s Mecca. Duke’s life and career are a testament to the fact that you don’t have to win the greatest prize on Earth to prove your mettle. Rather, fighting life’s adversaries to the best of your abilities is a more satisfying win in itself.

Bradford’s president promised the players a trip to Las Vegas if they reached the final, so when Matt Duke rests besides the hotel swimming pool with a glass of champagne in his hand, he will be content. The satisfaction of having turned the corner when the chips were down will give him peace, the same peace Armstrong might spend the rest of his life seeking despite his own brave fight against cancer.

Published 25 Jan 2013, 21:40 IST
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