Hearts fan battling terminal illness jet in for cup

Gary York and his wife, Iris

Gary York and his wife, Iris

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A HEARTS fan battling a terminal illness is jetting across the world to watch his heroes play live for the final time.

Gary York, 52, will be at Hampden on Saturday for the crunch Capital derby in a poignant visit that will likely be the last time he will taste the atmosphere of a Hearts match.

The father-of-two from New Zealand suffers from motor neurone disease – a fatal condition which ultimately causes paralysis – and is now confined to a wheelchair.

Despite being limited in his mobility, Mr York wasted little time booking a 36-hour flight back to Scotland after learning of the first all-Edinburgh cup final since 1896.

He scored two Hampden tickets through his brother, Brian, who works in Sydney as a horse-racing commentator.

Mr York emigrated to New Zealand with his parents in 1973 and has settled in Auckland for many years with his wife, Iris, and daughters Samantha, 16, and Courtney, 14.

Despite living thousands of miles from Tynecastle, he keeps up to date with his beloved Hearts via the internet.

He said: “I knew Hibs had qualified for the cup final and on the Monday morning when I saw the Hearts result I phoned my brother and asked him what he was doing for his 50th birthday and if he fancied coming to see the Scottish Cup final with me,” he said.

“We don’t get much Scottish football, and I don’t think they will be showing the Scottish Cup final here either, which is part of the reason why we want to get back and go to it.

“Because of my illness, this is probably the last trip I will make back home and this seemed like a good reason to come.”

The former Broomhouse native was diagnosed with motor neurone disease two years ago after noticing an increased lack of co-ordination in his right leg. Today, he is wheelchair-bound and his arms are too weak to hold a cup of tea.

Motor neurone disease progressively damages the nervous system, causing muscles to waste away. Sufferers find walking, speaking, breathing and swallowing difficult, and eventually impossible to do.

Asked what he was most looking forward to about his trip, Mr York said: “The atmosphere. It will be great to see the team again that I used to go watch at Tynecastle every other week until I was 13.

“The last game I went to before we left for New Zealand was a New Year’s Day derby at Easter Road and, unfortunately, Hibs won that day so I’m looking forward to a bit of payback.”

Bryan Carroll, spokesman from Motor Neurone Disease Scotland, said: “Gary and Iris are travelling more than 11,000 miles, and this shows just how determined some people are to continue living life to the full. By communicating through many channels, we are delighted to help provide special equipment to help make their stay back in Scotland as comfortable as possible.”

Hottest ticket in town

A BLUNDERING Hearts fan thought his cup final day out had gone up in smoke after scorching his ticket trying to iron out a crease.

Ian Downie, 34, was so vexed by the fold that appeared on his Hampden brief that he decided to return it to its original glory with some heat treatment.

The Granton resident, whose iron is maroon and white, said: “I saw my mate’s ticket which looked fresh and brand new and thought ‘I’ll just spruce this up a little’. I put it in a tea towel and ironed it, but I was in shock when I took it out.”

Although the ticket is heavily charred, vital information such as the seat number and reference number are still visible.

Reprints are often difficult to obtain but a customer service agent at the Scottish Football Association said Ian would be able to apply for a new brief if he still had the original.

Mr Downie has made an appointment with a ticket manager at Hearts this week to ensure his seat is safe.

Images of the gold-dust brief were posted on the Jambos Kickback fans forum. Its charred and blackened front attracted a bewildered response and was a hot topic on Twitter.

One poster said: “No reprints, scorched ticket and sold out game. It’s only ending one way.”

But another added: “As long as the bar code is okay . . . he should be fine.”