Lifesaving defibrillators to be legacy to grassroots football legend

EVERY local authority football pavilion across Liverpool now has a life-saving defibrillator installed – as a legacy to a grassroots football legend.

John Cantwell, 69, died in February 2018 while watching his son play football on the Joe Stone playing fields in Fazakerley.

The dad-of-two, from Walton, began managing amateur football teams alongside his wife Sandra – who was secretary – when his son Phil was eight years old and playing for St Aidan’s.

Over the years he worked with a number of amateur Sunday league clubs from under-7s to open age – latterly St Theresa’s in Norris Green, where he was assistant manager.

Following his death, his widow Sandra and son Phil approached the city council to suggest that defibrillators should be installed at each pavilion, in addition to first aid kits.

John’s family held a series of fundraising events, including taking part in the Three Peaks challenge and charity football matches, raising £6,000 to purchase seven defibrillators, which have been added to seven others owned by the city council and junior football leagues.

The city council has committed to keeping the 14 units maintained and Liverpool County FA is looking to deliver training for referees using some of the money raised.

To mark the installation of the defibrillator at the new £1 million Carr Lane East playing fields in Norris Green, a special under 7s football match is taking place on Thursday 19 September, in which John’s grandson will play, and his family will be present.

Deputy Mayor and Cabinet member for sport, Councillor Wendy Simon said: “This is a great example of something positive coming from the loss of a life, and we are grateful to John’s family for their help in raising funds to purchase the defibrillators.

“The issue of undiagnosed heart conditions is becoming more common and given that football is a high intensity game, it is right that we should make sure there is one in every single pavilion to be used in an emergency, whether for one of the players, coaching staff or spectators.

“Thousands of people use our sports pitches every single year and there is no doubt that one of these could well save a life in the very near future.”

John Cantwell’s son, Phil Cantwell, said: “There can be hundreds of amateur football players of a weekend on these pitches and by having a defibrillator on site a life could be saved.

“Dad devoted his life to the amateur football game – it was his world and he was a dad to hundreds of lads in the grassroots game.

“We had a huge reaction to his death because so many people knew and loved him, which helped us raise the money to pay for the defibrillators.

“As a family we believe that this is a really fitting legacy for him.” 

Tony Smith from Liverpool County FA said: “John Cantwell was a highly respected member of the local grassroots football community and volunteered his time to provide opportunities for both adults and children to play football.

“The allocation of defibrillators in all Liverpool City Council football pavilions should be widely applauded and is something we will be looking to replicate in other areas.

“As part of the funding raised by the Cantwell family, Liverpool County FA have committed to offering free FA Emergency Aid Courses for local referees.”