Grieving Harrogate Town striker Jon Stead 'touched' by response to Shirts for Jordan Sinnott campaign
Jon Stead has pretty much seen it all during his 17-year career as a professional footballer.
The veteran Harrogate Town striker has played in the Premier League, represented his country, helped inspire FA Cup giant killings and experienced both promotion and relegation.
But, for the last couple of weeks he has been faced with a challenge as difficult as anything he has ever had to cope with before; trying to play football while grieving for one of his closest friends.
Stead and Jordan Sinnott, the 25-year-old ex-Huddersfield Town and Halifax midfielder who was tragically killed during a night out in Retford last month, go some way back.
Former team-mates at the Terriers, the pair were part of a tight-knit group of pals including Derby County's Duane Holmes, Rotherham United's Matt Crooks and Danny Ward and Alex Smithies of Cardiff City, all of whom have all been left devastated by the loss of a hugely popular young man, known affectionately to many as 'Sinbad'.
Yet, as hard as he has found it to cope, Stead has forced himself to carry on doing his job, because he is adamant that it is what his friend would want.
“It’s just been a bit surreal. I’ve experienced family losses when grandparents have died, but I’ve never lost a really close friend before,” the 36-year-old ex-Sheffield United forward revealed.
“I’ve experienced a lot of new emotions and it has been really tough, but I’ve drilled it into myself that I just needed to keep playing football because that's what Jordan would want.
“I don’t think he’d be too happy looking down on his mates and seeing none of us playing in matches, because he loved the game. He was so passionate about it and I think he'd be proud of us for getting out there on the pitch.”
Carrying on as normal –or at least attempting to – has however been easier said than done.
Stead was aware that Sinnott was in hospital in a critical condition before he took to the field for Harrogate’s National League clash with Wrexham on January 25, but he still started the game and went on to complete the full 90 minutes.
Sinnott sadly passed away later that evening, yet despite the impact which his friend’s death has had on him, the former England under-21 international has done his best to get on with his job regardless.
Indeed, he again played 90 minutes when Town visited Aldershot at the weekend.
“I knew that Jordan was in a serious condition in hospital before the Wrexham game, but I didn’t know the full extent,” he added.
“I rushed to be with him straight after the match finished and I was able to see him, which was nice, but since he died it has been really hard.
"The worst moments are probably when my mind has chance to wander. Like, when I'm at home and the kids are upstairs playing, because you're on your own you start to think about everything and it's like the reality of what's happened kicks in.
“I’ve just tried to concentrate on the job in hand. It hasn’t been easy playing football with this going on, but in some ways it helps to have something else to focus on.”
Another thing that has been keeping the Town striker busy is his involvement in the Shirts for Jordan campaign, aimed at commemorating the life of Bradford-born Sinnott.
Jordan’s brother, Tom Sinnott, initially wanted to collect football shirts with ‘Sinnot 25’ printed on the back to display at his sibling's funeral, however the appeal has morphed into something much bigger.
“The response has been incredible,” said Stead, who has been involved in the campaign alongside Tom Sinnott, Jordan’s girlfriend, Kelly, and a number of other close friends.
“We were intially just hoping to get shirts from clubs we were involved with or where we had friends, but within three or four hours we had pledges from pretty much every Premier League team and most of the Championship.
“From there we started trying to get all the League One and Two sides and it’s just gone on and on.
“We’ve had shirts sent from non-league, pub teams, cricket clubs and even from abroad. We’ve already got close to 500 and we hope they keep coming.
“It’s been amazing really and we’re so grateful to everyone who has got involved and helped us with this.
"The aim now is to eventually send the shirts to Africa via Sport Relief, so there will be kids running around over there with Jordan's name on their back. What a way to continue his legacy."
Anybody who still wishes to donate a shirt to the appeal can do so by posting one to Stead at Harrogate Town AFC, The CNG Stadium, Wetherby Road, Harrogate, HG2 7SA.
"Honestly, it can be a shirt from any team, any club, anything at all," he continued.
"Even if it's Cubs or Scouts. Anything with a crest or badge on the front. And if you can't get 'Sinnot 25' put on the back, don't worry. Rachel Davis [Town's physio] has been brilliant in helping out with printing the name and number.
"We just want to keep on going and see how far we can take this.
"We're going after the European giants next. We've had some shirts sent from abroad already, and we're very grateful, but how good would it be to get Cristiano Ronaldo holding a Juventus top?"
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is just one of many high-profile names to have supported the campaign so far, and while it would be impressive if Ronaldo did get in on the act, what Stead and his friends have already achieved is quite something.
That the Shirts for Jordan appeal has gone so well is however merely testament to Sinnot's character.
"It doesn't really surprise me that much because he was such a great person, an infectious character," Stead added.
"Anybody who has ever been in contact with Jordan, heard his laugh, will know how good he was to be around.
"It's also touching that people who didn't know him, clubs with no connection to Jordan or any of us have got involved. It's been fantastic to see the footballing community react like this.
“It has been so nice to see so many people coming together for Jordan and it has definitely helped us in dealing with what has happened."