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“I really believe that football has the power to uplift you at the darkest times and unite you, no matter where you are in the world.”

Adrian Conoboy MBE is the Founder and Director of We Can Kick It, a charity that harnesses the power of football to help children cope with cancer. In this post, he explains how his own brain tumour diagnosis inspired We Can Kick It.

Adrian’s Story

Adrian, from London, was fit and healthy when a brain tumour stopped him in his tracks.  Adrian was living in New York and loving every minute of his job as a football coach, when a sudden seizure led to his shock diagnosis in 2016. There had been no warning signs, and Adrian’s life changed radically overnight. After brain surgery, he embarked on a treatment programme of chemotherapy, radiation, and a gruelling 18 months of speech, occupational and physical therapy. 

“My brain tumour took everything from me, and I have had to adjust to the new normal.
“One of the hardest aspects for me to deal with, is that to many I look fine. The struggles that I deal with daily are invisible to many. People don’t understand the effort that sometimes even having a simple conversation can take.
“My life is very different to pre-diagnosis.  Things I could previously push myself to do take effort and the fatigue after pushing myself can last for days.”

Adrian Conoboy

Adrian at a football match with two children, holding a scarf that says We Can Kick It

We Can Kick It! Using football for healing

While Adrian was undergoing treatment, he had the inspiration to use the healing power of football to help other families.

Football played a part in his own recovery, from a starting point of watching Arsenal matches from his hospital bed. As he worked hard on his fitness to get back to coaching, he knew the sport could be beneficial to children undergoing treatment. The dream became a reality, and Adrian set up football-themed Charity We Can Kick It in 2018.  The Charity offers free soccer clinics for children with cancer.

A children's football team holds up a trophy
children playing football
child playing football, going for a goal

“When I was in hospital, I kept seeing children also fighting and I knew that I wanted to do something to help them. Football has always been a huge part of my life; since I first set foot at the Arsenal.  It brings me such joy, whether I am coaching, watching or playing football. I really believe that football has the power to uplift you at the darkest times and unite you no matter where you are in the world.

“When the kids are on the field they have the chance to forget some of their worries and just be a kid. One of the hardest parts of cancer is learning to navigate the new normal. Life doesn’t snap back when your hair grows back or you ring that bell. You might have weakness on one side, not have grown as tall as your peers, feel conscious of your scars, and fell behind because of hospital appointments. 

The treatments take lasting tolls on your body. These kids have already faced so many battles.

“But you see them on the field and they are just kids having fun, playing a game that they love, in a supportive and encouraging environment.”

Making a Difference: how We Can Kick It helps

“Seeing the joy and confidence our clinics give the children is amazing. I really believe that sport can uplift you at your darkest times and it has helped me get through so much. 

“One child had previously enjoyed football, but since diagnosis had felt timid to play with his peers, feeling smaller and off balance. After a few months playing with We Can Kick It he had the confidence to start training and was able to start back with his former club team.

“Another girl who also has brain cancer, read about We Can Kick It via twitter. Although she lives abroad and could join our virtual clinic at the time, she has expressed her joy at finding fellow football lovers who also loved playing and had Cancer. It gave her such happiness to connect with others in a similar situation and join the community.”

We Can Kick It in the UK

Although based in the US, the Charity helps children with cancer in the UK, too.  They have hosted virtual football clinics to connect kids with players, and hear their stories.  They send care packages based around a child’s favourite team, to brighten long days in hospital. 

Together with Solving Kids’ Cancer, there have been in-person clinics at Knebworth House, and they are hoping to hold a UK-based one day Summer Camp in 2024.  Adrian explains that long term, We Can Kick It has ambitious plans:  

“We know that soccer unites people across languages and cultures. Our vision is to create a scalable worldwide model to support kids, young adults, and families impacted by cancer.“I would like to open a UK chapter, operating regular clinics and sessions for families. Football is global and so unfortunately is cancer. I feel that our mission can help so many more people.”

Receiving an MBE

Adrian Conoboy in a suit holding up his MBE award for work done with his football charity We Can Kick It

In 2021, Adrian’s efforts were recognised when he was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for services to children with cancer. He said:

“It was an insane moment. I never imagined as a boy from Wembley, someone like me, could get an MBE.  Going to Buckingham Palace was just surreal!

“But I hope that seeing that might give someone who has just been diagnosed hope. When you hear the words you have cancer, you just see all the doors around you closing and don’t get me wrong, there are dark days-  but there are glimmers too.

“I believe the charity has helped me find a new purpose.  After my brain tumour diagnosis, everything I had planned in my life was turned on its head. As a guy in my mid thirties I had so many different dreams and ambitions.

“Everything that I took for granted was taken away from me and I had no idea how I would cope, let alone be recognised for helping others in the same boat.

“It is petrifying having to relearn how to do things such as speak, read and write, along with having the mental strength to take on this strange new normal whilst undergoing treatment that makes you feel awful.

“Being diagnosed with cancer is a club nobody wants to join but it has introduced me to some of the kindest, inspiring and bravest people I know.

“The children we help have been through so much in their lives, but seeing them on the field having fun is the best part of my day.”

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