The daughter of a 99-year-old former professional footballer who died from Covid-19 last night said she thought her father might still be alive if he had not gone into a care home for respite when his wife was taken ill.
Cyril Lawrence was fit and strong before suddenly falling ill at a private care home on Good Friday – eight weeks before his 100th birthday.
Great-grandfather Cyril, Blackpool’s oldest surviving player, was having respite care at the home while his wife of 75 years Clara recovered from a spell in hospital.
‘He was a hero’: Cyril Lawrence has died of coronavirus after going into a care home ‘perfectly healthy’ for respite while his wife of 75 years Clara, 99, recovered from a spell in hospital
Cyril pictured with his daughter. He was having respite care at the home while his wife of 75 years Clara recovered from a spell in hospital
Their daughter Elaine Shirt, 73, said: ‘It all happened so fast – he was fine on Friday and had a good evening meal, even asking for an extra helping.
‘But by 8pm the staff were concerned and a doctor was called because they thought he had a chest infection. At that time we didn’t know it was coronavirus.
‘He was only in the care home for respite while mum was in hospital; if he hadn’t been there he may not have caught this dreadful disease.’
A consultant at Bolton Royal Hospital called Elaine at 4am to tell her and her 99-year-old mum that Cyril was ‘extremely poorly’ and to prepare for the worst.
He was put on oxygen, given fluids and antibiotics while swabs for the virus were taken.
Cyril tested positive and, when he continued to deteriorate, the family said their goodbyes by video call on Sunday using an iPad provided by caring nurses.
The footballer and war hero died eight weeks before his 100th birthday and his family said their goodbyes by video call on an iPad provided by caring nurses
Elaine said: ‘We told him how much we all loved him – he was a hero to my son and to all of us.
‘His eyes were closed but they said he could hear us.
‘It was the most dreadful and heartbreaking thing I’ve ever had to do.’
Cyril, who played as an old-fashioned winger for Blackpool, Rochdale and Wrexham before the start of WWII died on Tuesday.
Mother-of-two Elaine said: ‘He was in a one-bed ward and I asked the nurses not to leave him on his own.
‘The nurses were saying: ‘Boy, he’s a fighter.
‘They sat with him until the end, one of them was gently stroking his hair. We should have been with him but at least my dad wasn’t alone.’
Elaine added: ‘It makes me feel guilty that we put him in there. I feel awful about it.’
Cyril had only gone into the care home because Clara had had a fall.
Elaine said she felt unable to care properly for her father, her convalescing mother and her husband who has a weakened immune system, so the care home seemed like the best option and Cyril was happy to go.
Elaine went on to thank the staff at the care home: ‘They were lovely and called my dad ‘my little Cyril’. They are very brave, putting themselves on the front line and going home every day not knowing if they have caught the disease.’
Cyril and Clara, from Salford, Manchester, had two children, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Larger than life Cyril would have been 100 on June 12, Clara, who was born nine days earlier used to tease him that he was her toyboy.
Cyril Lawrence with Cllr Jim Fitzpatrik (right) celebrating Hyde FC’s 125 years in 2010. He was Blackpool’s oldest surviving player
Cyril and his wife Clara were looking forward to celebrating their 100th birthdays in June and a big family get together was planned
Elaine is concerned that other residents at the Farnworth Care Home in Bolton, where her dad was resident for nine weeks, may have the virus.
She is also worried about cross infection because Cyril was admitted to a general ward at the Bolton Royal Hospital before he tested positive for Covid-19.
Cyril and Clara were looking forward to celebrating their 100th birthdays in June and a big family get together was planned.
Elaine said: ‘They had a telegram from the Queen on their 60th wedding anniversary and they would have both had another one on their birthdays.
‘To be cruelly taken like this is just so so very sad as they were both in good shape for their ages.
‘Mum isn’t doing very well, it is such a shock for her.’
The family has been comforted by touching tributes to Cyril who served in the Royal Navy after his football career was halted by the outbreak of WWII.
Proud Elaine said: ‘Dad was larger than life and the kind of person who could chat to anyone. He was humble, everyone loved him.’
Elaine and her sister Norma are arranging their father’s funeral but fear they won’t get proper closure because of the restrictions around services which limit just 10 mourners to attend.
The Salford-born footballer’s career was halted when he was 19 due to World War II. The winger (circled) re-signed to Blackpool FC in Christmas 1945
Cyril played several times for Hyde United before he was deployed on the brand new battleship HMS King George V, assigned to the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands
The family are full of praise for the staff at the hospital, especially the nurses who were in tears during the heart rending last goodbye video call.
Elaine said: ‘They have been marvellous. The doctors and nurses are bravely putting their own lives at risk to try to save others. We can’t thank them enough
Cyril lied about his age when he was 19 so he could register for national service before lied conscription was introduced.
After completing his military training he represented Blackpool in a wartime fixture against Bolton in December 1939 and returned for another game, while on leave, against Stockport in September 1943.
Wartime football was encouraged to lift morale, although the size of the crowds was strictly limited and some games had to be abandoned amid air raids.
Cyril played several times for Hyde United before he was deployed on the brand new battleship HMS King George V, assigned to the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.
He spent more than five years serving on the ship, which performed an active combat role and witnessed some of the most historic episodes of the war, including the pursuit and sinking of the Bismarck and the surrender of Japan.
John Cross, from Blackpool’s Former Players’ Association, said: ‘Really sad news that Pool’s oldest surviving player, Cyril Lawrence passed away yesterday morning aged 99.
‘He was just two months off celebrating his centenary.
‘Cyril played a couple of war-time games for the Pool when he was home on leave from the Royal Navy.
‘I met up with Cyril and his lovely family nearly 10 years ago when they visited Bloomfield Road.
‘He was a smashing old fella who told me he loved his time playing for the Pool.’