The Ipswich Town FC cycling team, which has raised £150,000 riding in our Football to Amsterdam event, visit the University of East Anglia to find out how they’re using the money to prove a link between advanced prostate cancer and bacterial infections using urine samples. It’s a topic that brings back sore memories for one of the cycling team’s members, former England captain Terry Butcher.
Picture the scene. The 1986 World Cup quarter-final has just finished. England have narrowly lost 2-1 by Argentina, beaten by one of the greatest goals ever scored, having conceded one of the most controversial goals ever scored earlier in the game.
Both goals were from Argentina’s mercurial Number 10, Maradona. And he’s now sat in the drug-testing room immediately after the game next to England centre back Terry Butcher. Both are required to provide a urine sample, but that’s the last thing on Terry’s mind.
He still can’t believe Maradona’s first goal has been allowed to stand, and is doing all he can not to manhandle the diminutive genius following an enquiry into what happened. It feels like someone has already taken the piss.
“I asked him what happened: was it head or hand? And he motioned towards his head,” remembers Butcher. “Looking back, if he’d have said 'hand' I would have throttled him.”
Fast forward 30 years, and former England and Ipswich captain Butcher is still contributing to important urine test procedures and understanding the facts of what happens – well, kind of. Organised by another former Ipswich player, Simon Milton, the Ipswich Town Football Club cycling team has raised over £150,000 over the last three years doing Prostate Cancer UK’s Football to Amsterdam bike ride, with Terry joining them for the last two.
It’s fantastic to see first-hand how our efforts are being invested in research to understand what causes prostate cancer
So we sent some of the team on a visit to a lab in Norwich to find out how the money they and others have raised is being invested in innovative research projects. Although Terry wasn’t among them (perhaps the memories of 30 years ago are still raw), his teammates Simon, John Reader, and Ady Smith met with scientists from the University of East Anglia to find out more about their work, looking at whether certain types of bacteria found in urine could lead to aggressive prostate cancer.
“It’s fantastic to see first-hand how our efforts are being invested in research to allow the scientific community to understand what causes prostate cancer in the first place,” said Simon, who’s now Ipswich Town’s Academy Sponsorship Director and received a Football for Good Award in 2015 for the team’s fundraising efforts.
“In football, urine samples are used to ensure players aren’t taking anything they shouldn’t be. And in a not too dissimilar way here, they’re seeing if certain types of bacteria in the body are causing aggressive prostate cancer using similar testing techniques.”
John, director of local Suffolk firm GAH, whose father has battled prostate cancer, also drew parallels to his experience as an engineer.
“We find when a part of a machine is put under stress it can falter,” he said. “And it feels like that with the body: as it gets older, an area may be put under stress and this triggers cells to become cancerous. That’s when the problems start. But if the guys here can understand more from bacteria in the body, we may be able to use antibiotics to control their cancerous cells more effectively.”
Professor Colin Cooper, the man who heads up a small team at the Bob Champion research centre which is part of the UEA campus in Norwich, has received a £200,000 Research Innovation Award from Prostate Cancer UK to investigate whether bacterial infection – which is known to play a part in the development of other cancers – is responsible for the development of advanced prostate cancer. His team has already established bacteria in the urine is much more common in men with aggressive or advanced prostate cancer than in those men with low risk or no cancer, so now the task is to explore this further to establish how significant this connection is.
If we can confirm a strong link between the bacteria found in the urine samples and aggressive prostate cancer, it could lead to a clinical trial
“We’re very excited to have been granted this award – it could lead to us revolutionising how we understand prostate cancer,” said the professor. “And if we can confirm a strong link between the bacteria found in the urine samples and aggressive prostate cancer, it could lead to a clinical trial. We’re learning new things every day and that’s what’s so exciting about this project.
“It was great to meet the Ipswich Town cycling team interested in how the money they raise can help the scientific community, particularly when they don’t have a microbiology degree!”
After being shown around the Bob Champion building, Simon reflected on what he and his cycling team’s efforts had over the last three years was helping to achieve in Professor Cooper’s labs and beyond.
“We’re very proud of what Team ITFC has achieved,” he said, “both in terms of raising money to fight a disease prevalent in the football community, and also in bringing together men and women as a cycling community, which has been incredibly rewarding too.”
And that was that. The Tractor Boys headed back to Portman Road to report back to the rest of their team on the ‘piss-taking’ research being done in Norwich, which no doubt even Terry Butcher would be proud he’s helping to support.
Find out more about joining Ipswich Town on the biggest ride in football and help stop prostate cancer being a killer.