Stefano Borgonovo: An Inspiration to Our Beautiful Game

Michelle AlvesSenior Writer INovember 12, 2008

In my previous article, I wrote about Liverpool and the passion fans like Liam Harker have for the team.

This time I’m looking at other inspirational players, and reasons why every time someone gives up on football, something new comes their way and sheds light on the beauty of the sport.

Starting his football career at the age of 17, Stefano Borgonovo began with Como Calcio and soon moved to AC Milan. He was loaned back to Calcio, and spent two years playing for them. 

Following that he was loaned to Fiorentina, where he excelled in Serie A and won three caps for his country, Italy. Later he was given a chance to play for Milan again, but was unsuccessful and moved back to Fiorentina.

It came as a shock in September this year when Borgonovo was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease—named after the famous baseball player who was hit with the condition at just 36 years of age and died two years later). The same disease killed Gianluca Signorini in 2002.

It is a motor neurone disease that a surprising number of ex-footballers suffer from. The disease affects muscles, leading to a weakening in movement and, eventually, to complete paralysis. It also makes it difficult to breathe and talk.

The disease slowly eats away at muscles, leaving you with a lifeless body awaiting the cruel whisper of death. 

Borgonovo cannot talk and has to use a computer-generated voice that tracks his eye movements in order to communicate. He vowed to fight this condition, saying, ''What if I became the first to cheat this?''

When told about the disease affecting a lot of footballers, Borgonovo replied, ''I love soccer too much to believe this is a football disease," refusing to believe that the one thing he loved the most could kill him.

Spoken like a true football fan, like a candy-loving child who couldn’t believe that something so nice could be the reason for so much pain.

On Oct. 8 in Florence, a game called "Everyone for Stefano" was played to honor the footballer. The charity meeting was organized to support research to find a cure for the illness. The event tugged at heart strings and was warm and touching. He smiled through the game; his strength and heroism were an inspiration to all who watched.

At the conclusion of the match, Stefano Borgonovo had a message for every one of the individuals in his situation. “I wanted to say to those who suffer from what I suffer, believe in yourself, believe in football, and believe in the players and the football leagues that will help to find a cure for our illness.”

Many of the players had to fight back tears, so overwhelming was the night.

Investigation is still going on regarding the spread of this disease among Italian soccer players. So far more than 40 Italian ex-football players have been victims of ALS. One theory suggests the link of pesticides on the stadium grass, but so far nothing has been confirmed.

Fabio Cannavaro said, "If you look at the statistics for the number of players affected, there is reason to be worried."

Borgonova has brought awareness to this issue. His bravery and courage to accept this disease and fight it, and at the same time attempt to prevent the spread by speaking out is worthy of applause.

The charity game will help give Borgonova and many others affected even more strength to move ahead.

At the moment of his definitive exit, a five-minute round of applause accompanied him on his way off the pitch. A perfect ending to a perfect day.

It is a difficult time in football, some would say, yet it brings the sport back to what it was before some (mild, would you say?) form of corruption took place.

It put out of mind all the "dirty games" going on surrounding football lately. The mind games, the fixing, the accusations, the racism, the money talk, and the distraction. This is what football is about. This is what is meant when they say "Joga Bonito." This is what it should be all about.

I can only thank people like Borgonovo and Liam for constantly reminding me what it’s all about and why I still watch this breathtaking game.