By Phil Lanning
BRAVE John Gwynne is returning to the commentary box at 76 despite battling The Big C which has claimed his wife and best TV pals.
The veteran voice of darts and football was diagnosed with rectal cancer in November 2020 and has been undergoing treatment at Manchester’s Christie’s Hospital.
Gwynne has been a stalwart of sports reporting and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Freddie Flintoff, Ricky Hatton, Dickie Bird, Trevor Brooking and even Oasis star Noel Gallagher.
Yet there’s no hint of him hanging up his mic as he returns for the first time since his diagnosis for the World Seniors Championship at the Circus Tavern this weekend.
In a curious twist of fate the first time he walked through the doors of the Circus Tavern was to commentate on the first WDC World Championship at the end of December 1993, over 28 years ago.
Two months later his wife, Margaret, lost her battle with ovarian cancer. Since then his TV comms pals Sid Waddell and Dave Lanning have both died from the Big C – now Gwynne has his own battle.
But he paid tribute to the NHS in his local area and vowed to keep fighting to spend extra time with his great grandson and a love of sport.
He revealed: “I did a darts event in Dalkeith, Scotland in August 2020 and I was unwell then. I was getting constipation. Normally you just kind of ride it and eventually take some medicine and get rid of it. But this lingered and it was getting painful and nasty.
“I got in touch with my GP and she referred me straight to hospital for scans. I was diagnosed on November 19. That was when the specialist at Tameside General Hospital gave me the news.
“I probably should have gone to the doctor even earlier. When I rang my doc they were pleased I had because I was very cautious because of the burden the NHS were under with Coronavirus. I was almost apologetic for ringing.
“It was important that I did take that step. I had a bad pain in my rectum and that was where the first tumour, because I have several, was located.
“Within a fortnight I was in hospital having a stoma bag fitted, before they could take any further action they had to realign my intestines. I now have a permanent stoma.
“That was in early December and, after further scans, my first course of chemo was arranged at the wonderful Manchester’s Christie Hospital at the end of January.
“It was then nine weeks of treatment over a 12-week period. I had to pause it because I wasn’t strong enough but then completed it.
“I had another overnight visit recently at The Christie for an MRI scan. I had another session of radiotherapy on the tumour causing a spinal compression. My condition is precarious to say the least but I have faith in the experts.”
Gwynne above, with Lanning and Stuart Pyke, admits that losing his wife and colleagues to the Big C adds an extra level to the battle but insists that his great grandson Lyle is now his biggest inspiration to fully recover.
He added: “It is a psychological battle. You are aware that it has happened to people so close to you, family and colleagues.
“I lost Margaret to cancer of the womb in 1994. Obviously Sid and Dave both lost their battles with cancer in the end. We were the three musketeers of darts commentary.
“But in the end you still have to have your own single-minded approach towards trying to combat it.
“While that is in your mind it doesn’t have any immediate impact on my current condition physically. That is my own personal battle in 2022.
“I’m very lucky because my son Andrew lives about a mile away from me. He’s a member of Parliament for the Denton and Reddish constituency. He is the Shadow Minister for Health and Social Care.
“I’ve got nothing but admiration for my son. He was 19 when his mum died. It hit him hard, very hard. He was very close to his mum.
“So he’s had to pick himself up and dust himself down from being a youngster basically and forge a career for himself.
“He and his wife Allison are bringing up their grandchild, because of family circumstances and being parents for a second time round. That enables their youngest James to go to university.
“My great grandson Lyle is now three-years-old and he’s the apple of my eye. When I was told I had this cancer, I was down in the dumps a little while and that’s a natural first reaction.
“Then you have the job of picking yourself up and going along with the hospital’s plan of action.
“One of the biggest incentives to get better and eke out a few more years of life out of one’s self is wanting to spend more time with your great grandson.
“I want to see him go to school, I want to see him at least able to go to primary school and so he can say when he’s older he can remember his great grandad.”
Gwynne’s remarkable football reporting career started in 1982 with Piccadilly Radio and he even completed visiting every stadium in late 2018 with Manchester City’s visit to West Ham at the London Stadium, sitting next to Noel Gallagher!
He said: “I’d been to 91 of the 92 league grounds and the London Stadium completed the set.
“I got a seat in the directors box alongside Noel Gallagher and various footballers. Noel and I exchanged a few words. I made him laugh with one line when David Silva scored, I’d said that proves Silva was better than Gold!
“I did my last Sky Sports Saturday football report in November 2020. I informed Sky of my condition and I felt it was the right decision for me to take a sabbatical while I went through this treatment. To their credit the Soccer Saturday team have said to me just come back when I’m ready, they want me back.
“Even at 75 I still get a thrill from going whether it is Morecambe or Middlesbrough. I get the same thrill I did as a child.
“My first job on Sky Saturday was in 1997 and it was Jeff Stelling who got me onto that. He was fronting the darts then and told me at the World Matchplay darts just before the football season started to start reporting for them.
“My first football match was Shrewsbury Town versus Brighton and Hove Albion on October 1st, 1955. I was 10 and my dad allowed me to go to the game, it was in the old Third Division.
“I once went with the school to Wolves and managed to touch the sleeve of Billy Wright’s shirt. I would say that’s when I got the passion for football.
“But the first time I reported on football was for Piccadilly Radio in 1982, the head of sport was Richard Keys and he gave me my first-ever work on football. It was an FA Cup first round game between Chester City and Northwich Victoria.”
Gwynne is remarkably the only person to have been a broadcaster for all of Phil Taylor’s 16 World Championship wins.
He still has a target to write a darts and cricket book to follow his Soccer Satisfied book released last year. Not only does he want to return to football reporting but also to his job at Lancashire Cricket Club.
He concluded: “I’m also the PA at Lancashire Cricket Club, which I applied for at 74-years-old, and got the job!
“Part of my duties is to read out the lunchtime and teatime scores. But on my very first day I had to read out a result from Cardiff; Essex were 346 for 7 in their 50 overs, Glamorgan were all out for 166 and Essex won by one hundred and eighhhhhhhhtyyyyy! The Old Trafford crowd enjoyed that!”
Images courtesy of John Gwynne and Taylor Lanning.