A year on from the country entering its first lockdown.
A time when the nation was coming to terms with having to keep our distance from our loved ones, where toilet roll was being sold on eBay for jaw dropping prices, and when baking banana bread would be a way to pass the time, even when we didn’t really want banana bread.
But little did I know that less than a month later, I would receive a call from my mum telling me: “the doctors can’t guarantee dad is going to pull through.”
It’s the one and only time I’ve sobbed during this pandemic, because it was the day I realised I was never going to see my father again.
Dad had been taken to hospital suffering with COVID-19 symptoms on 15 April. He would pass away just over a week later on 26 April having spent a week on a ventilator, and 11 days in hospital in total. His passing was the day before I was due to start my new role here at The FA, a job that was years in the making and one that dad knew meant a lot to me.
To say my now-colleagues were supportive and understanding would be an understatement.
I don’t want this piece to be negative, but I do want it to be authentic, which is why I have opened with the event that has dictated my whole pandemic. To lose the man you’ve looked up to your whole life – who has supported you, encouraged you and who spoke so glowingly about you to anyone who would listen – left a numb feeling.
But while my family was going through the worst possible ordeal, I was also very aware – and continue to be – that so many others were going through the most challenging of times. Businesses being lost, workers placed on furlough, and parents being given no choice but to home school their children.
I think it's that knowledge that everyone has suffered, and that everyone has needed to live through the last year, that makes today’s Day of Reflection all the more important. My story is just one of hundreds of thousands, probably even millions. Everyone has lost something whether it's loved ones, jobs, or just that opportunity to give someone a hug.
But I also want to use this to reflect on the things I’ve gained. Two weeks after dad passed, his first grandchild was born – my nephew, Kit.
There are few things that can lift you more than a new addition to the family, and Kit has very much been our bright light during this dark time. It's also meant more time talking with my family. I think I realise now that I wasn’t speaking to them enough. Sadly, it's taken a pandemic and the loss of dad to realise that – so we do speak more, and I look at that as a big gain.
We’ve seen resilience and gained the knowledge that our NHS is unrivalled. During the most difficult time, doctors, nurses and carers have stepped up and shown care and compassion, while putting their own lives at risk. The football world too has put its hand up, whether that be our own staff volunteering at the vaccine centre by Wembley Stadium, or clubs like my home team Watford opening its hospitality area up to nurses to have a cooked meal after a long shift. While we have seen a lot of bad, there has been good too.
On this Day of Reflection, I’d encourage anyone reading this to try and focus on the things they have gained. Whether that be more time speaking with the family. Gaining more rise from your banana bread than you did a year ago. Or the wisdom that “tomorrow will be a better day" – the wise words we gained from the incredible Captain Sir Tom Moore.
I hope tomorrow, next week, next month and next year, are better for all of us.