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Tearful tributes for West Ham youngster Dylan Tombides

14:55 21 April 2014

Dylan Tombides father and brother bring his number 38 shirt to the centre circle

Dylan Tombides father and brother bring his number 38 shirt to the centre circle

PA Wire/Press Association Images

East End pays fitting tribute to young Aussie footballer

Dylan Tombides on his West Ham debut v Wigan Athletic in 2012Dylan Tombides on his West Ham debut v Wigan Athletic in 2012

Dylan Tombides made just one late substitute appearance for West Ham United in a 4-1 home defeat. He was born thousands of miles away from the East End in Perth, Australia, but on Saturday at Upton Park, the fans of this great club paid fitting tribute to a young man who had fought harder than anyone to get to where he was, only to have the prize so cruelly taken away from him.

Dylan was a super fit, young athlete, an Aussie international footballer, but even he could no longer fight against a cruel and crippling illness that had started as testicular cancer and in the end had taken control of his liver and finally ended his life.

West Ham paid tribute to the short life of the 20-year-old who died on Friday morning at a clinic in Germany, his family around him. There was a minute’s applause, before his father Jim and brother Taylor – a West Ham Academy boy himself – took Dylan’s number 38 shirt into the centre circle as the club deemed that his number would be retired forever.

“Football doesn’t mean too much after what happened to Dylan,” said West Ham boss Sam Allardyce. “When I heard the bad news about him passing away my thoughts were with him and his family.

“My sympathies go to them, it’s a sad day for the family and us. He was a young man who put up such a great fight to live and continue to play football.”

He certainly did. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer during a random drugs test after playing for Australia under-17s in 2011, but after lengthy and painful treatment he seemed to have got over the worse and returned to training at Upton Park before making his first-team debut in September 2012.

But his recovery proved to be a false dawn as the cancer began to spread and rather than a fight to earn a place in the West Ham first-team squad, it became a fight for his life and one that he would not win.

On his 20th birthday just last month, Dylan took the time to thank everyone for their congratulations, despite being back in treatment once again.

“Anyone who has been close to me over the last three to four years will know the tough times I’ve endured and the fight I’ve had to put up and continue to do so,” he said.

“Spending another birthday in hospital is never ideal, but so many people made me smile today and for the effort they put in and I’m very grateful for it.”

West Ham defender George McCartney said: “It was very sad when we heard the news. I played with Dylan a few times, in training and in development games.

“He was a great lad and I think we were all shocked to hear that he sadly passed away.

“I am sure he will always be remembered around the football club among the staff and the players.”

He certainly will be now. Only Bobby Moore, the legend of Upton Park has had his number retired by the club, so why has a little known Aussie youngster been granted the same privilege?

Perhaps it is because Dylan represents every fan. Most of us dream of becoming a professional footballer, few of us have the talent to get that chance.

Young Dylan worked hard all his life to get into that position, only for it to be taken from him by a disease that can strike anyone at any time.

“Like my dreams, they fade and die” never seemed more appropriate.

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