After watching his dad suffer in silence with prostate cancer, Southend United CEO Steve Kavanagh is determined to make as much noise as possible about the disease using his connections in football. As he prepares to lead a team of cyclists in our Football to Amsterdam ride for the second time, he tells us why the personal emotions that drive him are still strong.
Not even a broken ankle will stop Southend United’s CEO, Steve Kavanagh, from cycling 145 miles from London to Amsterdam in our annual football-themed bike ride this weekend. Why? Because he doesn’t want other men to go through the same pain and suffering that his late father did.
"My dad was a very proud man, but he was also very private about his illness and didn’t really want to talk about it," says Steve about Maurice, who passed away from prostate cancer more than 10 years ago, aged 74.
Dad didn’t want to talk about it – he didn’t want to show any sign of weakness
"When he was dying he told me that he used to get up in the middle of the night and cry. It must have been terrifying that these things were happening but he didn’t want to talk about it – he didn’t want to show any sign of weakness. But by doing that, he made it harder on himself. And that’s what inspires me to do things differently."
And Steve certainly is doing things differently, using his privileged position in football to get more men talking about prostate cancer and going to their GP.
Last year, he helped organise a men’s health day at Roots Hall, which referred 30 men for PSA tests and found a staggering 20 of those had levels that were dangerously high. And for the second year running, Steve has rallied a Southend team of riders to take on Football to Amsterdam, personally raising almost £8,000 over both rides.
"The little things that clubs can do – whether it’s fundraising or giving their time – is vital because people pay attention to football," says Steve. "The Men United campaign has been powerful because it has made people listen and take action rather than shying away and keeping it to themselves."
And despite breaking his ankle six weeks ago playing five-a-side, Steve is looking forward to his second time in the saddle heading for the Dutch capital. "It’s such a fantastic event, bringing teams together from across the country – I really did enjoy it last year," he says.
As we pulled up at the Amsterdam ArenA, behind my glasses I was crying
It’s not just his ankle he expects will be causing him some discomfort on the ride, though, but also memories of losing his dad. "Over time the pain gets less," says Steve.
"But it will never go and occasionally it’ll get you – and riding into Amsterdam last year was one of those moments where it got me.
"I don’t mind saying that as we pulled up at the Amsterdam ArenA, behind my glasses I was crying."