'I'm not afraid of dying' - Ex-Newcastle United striker Tony Lormor opens up on heartbreaking cancer battle

Journeyman. Over the years football at all levels has been littered with them, but few can match former Newcastle United man Tony Lormor.

Sunday, 8th September 2019, 19:34 pm
Former Newcastle United striker Tony Lormor - who started his career with the Magpies in the late 1980s.

Nineteen years as a professional, 16 clubs up and down the Football League and beyond, with the well-travelled striker's boots hung up in 2006 - that's journey enough for anyone.

But little did Lormor know, that's when the real ride was set to begin.

Six and a half years ago, Lormor was first diagnosed with follicular lymphoma - a cancer of the lymphatic system. He was doing the thing he loved - involved at former club Chesterfield as the kitman. It was a shock to the system like no other. Lormor was no stranger to the treatment room but little could have prepared him for the intense, invasive bouts of chemotherapy that went on to dominate his life.

See, the thing with follicular lymphoma is that, while it grows slowly, it is very difficult to cure.

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Having fought it off, Ashington-born Lormor always feared things could take a turn for the worse. Fast forward to January this year and those fears were realised.

The one thing cancer survivors never want to hear - 'it's back'.

More treatment, more spells in hospital, away from the people you love – life on hold once again.

But Lormor is made of strong, rugged stuff - as anyone who saw him play will testify. The burly frontman did it again. Cancer 0 Lormor 2.

Now at 48, life can really begin.

But no, the big C will just not budge. And hear we are, months down the line from his third diagnosis.

"You have to remain positive," said a sprightly Lormor over the phone.

"I have accepted my fate.

“I am not frightened of dying."

A sobering thought, but one delivered with the confidence and surety that goes beyond the comprehension of anyone lucky enough not to have stared death in the face.

"But what I will say is that I am not ready for it,” he said.

"I am standing on firm ground in my life; I know what I am and where I am. There is comfort in that.

"I live from day-to-day – with this in your life, you have to.

“It's all about short-term goals. What am I doing this weekend? What am I doing tomorrow? And what about next week – if I make it?”

This joke sums up the strength of the man, who made more than 400 appearances in a career with the humblest of beginnings at one of the country's hotbeds of junior football – Wallsend Boys Club.

"There were some tough games on that five-a-side court," he recalled.

Yellow and green. Station Road, just off the Coast Road. If you know, you know.

Alan Shearer. Peter Beardsley. Carrick, Clark, Bruce, Elliott, Watson.

"I was very big for my age as a kid,” he said, “and that carried on as a teenager. I was lucky in that way.

"So I kept scoring goals in the age groups and ended up at Newcastle.

"Life at professional clubs was very different back in those days.

“One or two of us young kids would get the chance to take part in training with the professionals.

"At the age of 17, in 1987, I was involved with the team. You get a chance to train, you take it. On the bench, in the team in pre-season and you score a goal. It just went from there, really. I hit the ground running that summer."

Umbro. THAT grey kit. Willie McFaul. Greenalls. Gazza and Mirandinha.

"I was 17 in that squad and Newcastle signed Mirandinha. It was surreal," Lormor said.

It was January 23, 1988, Gazza netted twice in a 2-0 home win over Tottenham Hotspur when he got the call off the bench to replace the enigmatic Brazilian he looks back on with such fond memories.

His first Football League goal came in a 3-1 loss to Oxford United later that season.

"We had a great group of players. Real characters,” Lormor said.

"Mirandinha was a free spirit. I remember him shooting from the half-way line. Megs in his own box, shots straight from kick-off. He was special."

Mira was not the only influence on Lormor.

He continued: "Paul (Gazza) used to tell me, 'give me the ball and just get in the box'. He was brilliant around the place, you've all heard the stories. He was a person who just wanted to make everyone happy. He would do anything, absolutely anything, to make you smile.

"I looked after Glenn Roeder's kit as a YTS. So I got to learn from him close-hand, really. He was the captain, so that was another brilliant experience.

"Paul Goddard gave me some great advice, Dave McCreery, Michael O'Neill, we had Darren Jackson. It was a great group and a good team."

Lormor looks back on his career with a very final, romantic fondness. His time at United undoubtedly shaped him forever.

"I do have regrets," he said.

"Injury changed me. I left Newcastle and went to Lincoln City. Had a great time there – scored goals and then got injured. I was never the same striker again.

"When people who saw me play reflect, they will probably call me a journeyman. I know I could have been more than that if it wasn’t for injury. I had to change my game and so became more of a targetman.

"I suppose in the end I made a good career and I enjoyed every second of it."

The days of St James's Park, Norwich City, Lincoln, Halifax Town, Peterborough United, Chesterfield, Preston North End, Notts County, Mansfield Town, Hartlepool United, Shrewsbury Town, Telford United, Sutton Town and Heanor Town are a distant memory for Lormor. His battles are no longer with defenders but with himself and the cancer which threatens his very existence.

Results last week proved his battle must go on.

As a kind of catharsis and a want to help others who may be battling similar issues alone, Lormor writes a blog. He posts online when he is at his worst. He believes there's an honesty in that approach.

Lormor was told he must again leave home, go through treatment - this time a stem cell transplant. The cells will be harvested from Lormor, frozen, the put back into him.

"We live to fight another day," his latest blog reads.

"This is the plan for me now: September 17, I go back to Chesterfield hospital and have the 5/6 days of chemo. Within the week of getting out of Chesterfield, I will then go to Sheffield, where they will start the harvesting of my stem cells. This is about a six-day process, then I will get a two-week break.

"Back at Sheffield, I will be given six more days of chemo. It's not pleasant. Then I have to live in Sheffield for the next 3 weeks, so they can monitor me.

“Not sure what's worse, the chemo or living in Sheffield????"

The chances of this treatment working are slim. It will be no easy ride.

But whenever things seem to be taking a turn for the worse, his humble, humorous approach shines through.

The line crackles but the attacker’s tone does not.

"Honesty is the best policy," said Lormor, whose has four children from two marriages.

"I do not want anyone to get any nasty surprises.

"I lost my mum to cancer seven or eight year ago and it came as a surprise. She was trying to protect us - she was riddled with it, and we did not know.

"I have been honest with my family. They know what is likely to happen."

He continued: "I have had a good life. I really appreciate the experiences I have had in my life - football, family, everything.

"I would like to go on holiday. I have been forced to cancel a couple of breaks. I thought I'd get one next year but this thing is unforgiving."

Given what he's been through, where he's been, the battles he's fought, you wouldn't bet against Lormor dusting off that passport again.

The path walked in the life of a journeyman is never easy. Lormor had it tough as a player and unimaginably tougher when his playing days were over.

"This is just another hurdle to overcome. I want to kick its ass."