This time last week not many of us would have heard of Doncaster Rovers’ Billy Sharp. However, in the past week, tributes and messages of support have poured in for the 25 year-old striker after it emerged that he had tragically lost his two day-old son, Luey Jacob Sharp. This came to light following last Tuesday’s game between Doncaster and Middlesbrough where a minute’s applause was observed in memory of Luey and where a wonder goal from Sharp himself had a significance far beyond it’s outstanding quality.

Sharp, who was handed the captaincy for the Middlesbrough game, was so captured in the moment that he broke down in tears as both sets of fans paid their respects. He took to his Twitter account to pay tribute to the fans: “To captain the side tonight was an honour and a pleasure, the minute applause, I was crying, meant so much to me thanks to both sets of fans”.

Tributes for Sharp were lead by both his manager Dean Saunders and by Middlesbrough boss Tony Mowbray. Mowbray said that “We’re desperately sad for him and his family and for him to score a wonder-strike like that was unbelievable. If I’m allowed to say it, I’m delighted for him.” He also went on to say that it was a “goal from Heaven”. George Friend, club captain, said that he had no hesitation whatsoever in handing Sharp the captain’s armband before the game: “It was a mark of respect to make Billy the captain. The lads have rallied round him and it was very fitting that he scored such a great goal”.

Middlesbrough went on to win the game 3-1 but it is Sharp’s excellent goal in the fourteenth minute that will be remembered by most. He managed to find himself some space at the edge of the Middlesbrough penalty area and gently lofted the ball over ‘Boro ‘keeper Jason Steele. He subsequently celebrated what was an emotional moment for him by lifting up his jersey to reveal a shirt bearing the lines: “That’s For You Son”. Match referee Darren Deadman displayed common sense in not cautioning Sharp for removing his jersey, taking full advantage of a clause in Fifa’s Laws of the Game which states that referees “are expected to act in a preventative manner and to exercise common sense in dealing with the celebration of a goal”. This decision has been hailed by football fans from around the world, praising his respect and compassion for the situation. It was one of those rare moments in football where everyone steps back and realises what is truly important.

It is not only the referee who has shown his respect over the past week. Teams such as Derby County have worn black armbands to show their sympathy for Sharp, his girlfriend Jade and their families.

In the lead up to the game, it was widely understood that Sharp would in fact miss the game against Middlesbrough due to what they then knew as ‘personal reasons’. However, it emerged that Sharp had phoned his manager Dean Saunders on Monday evening telling him that he wished to play in Tuesday’s league tie. Saunders said that “He [Billy] wanted to score a goal for his son and family and I could not refuse”.

Sharp did in fact go on to play (and score) in a game that will be remembered for the way that Sharp displayed a professionalism that is sometimes lost in the modern game and all in the face of immense personal tragedy. It is moments like these which help to remind us of the true spirit of the game.

Seán Grennan