You go to Brunton Park, step onto the East Stand concourse, and you see his name, his face. You go to Borough Park and drink in a bar that also bears his name.

Yet, much more than that, should your life be touched by the scandalously cruel condition of Motor Neurone Disease, then Tony Hopper is with you there too. He has your back.

It is five years today since this most popular and warmly-remembered of local footballers passed away. Our first thoughts today go to his family on October 9 – a day, no doubt, to be got through somehow, wherever the emotions take you, however hard they are put to work.

So love and respect, first and foremost, to the Hoppers.

And let us simply hope, let us pray, that on a day such as this, another feeling can somehow break the surface.


Pride in what your boy, your brother, your dad, your husband, your uncle, your friend, did, in what he left behind.

Football memories shared by all who watched and admired him in Carlisle’s blue, Workington’s red and the hues of others he played for.

Then, profoundly, the way Tony used his name, his profile, his desperately cruel situation in the last years of his life to help others.

And, in the time since, the way that selfless intention, as reluctant as it must have been in the circumstances, has continued to make its mark.

It was as recently as March this year, after all, that a sell-out charity ball in Tony’s memory raised £20,000 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association in Cumbria.

Imagine having so many people turning up because of you, because of your name, putting that much money on it. Imagine the kind of man you need to be for that to happen.

And that’s just one event. There have been umpteen in the intervening years, initiatives in aid of the MND Association as well as Eden Valley Hospice, some while Tony was still with us, many since his death, all doing good, all helping people Tony would never meet.

When Carlisle United’s 1994/95 heroes got together a couple of years ago, in whose name were thousands raised for the hospice that looked after him?

In Tony’s, of course. It was Tony’s name, his memory, for which tears were shed and laughter shared that night. It was Tony, this decent, hard-working, funny, well-liked lad, who was the touchstone for all the goodness in the room.

Tony’s wife, Sue, has been formidable, proactive and brilliant in her fundraising initiatives since his death, deserving and then some of the Outstanding Achievement trophy at this year’s Pride of Cumbria Awards.

All those who have helped her, all those who’ve got on with something good because of Tony, can hold their heads high, maybe even a little higher, on a day like this.

For when you think of Tony Hopper, you of course have to think of the sadness that befell him but also think in terms of celebration: that he was one of us, one of our own, someone who gave his heart and soul for his teams and then, in his last days and after them, inspired many more people to be part of his squad as well.

Five years is a long time, but also no time, yet Tony's impact grows, feels stronger the more you consider it. And at either of the grounds where he made his name, we can now raise a pint to him then watch his teams doing what he always loved doing: an appropriate thought, now and far beyond, for this humble Cumbrian hero.