Kev McCormack: The death of Alan McLoughlin was a wake-up call. Life is so, so precious – my family must now come before Portsmouth
His wife Sarah’s battle with serious illness met with the tragic death of close friend and Republic of Ireland and blues legend Alan McLoughlin in May.
The succession of brutal blows that fall on the 54-year-old man forces him to immerse himself in an agonizing introspection and a questioning of his life.
As a result, one of the Football League’s oldest players gave up the Pompey job he loved in August – ending 22 years old.
McCormack remains at Fratton Park as an assistant kitman, a reduced role that spares him match-day commitments and negotiates those grueling Saturday rides in a minibus.
Sarah, rather than football, is now his top priority.
âRecently, I remembered Alan Ball, Jim Smith and Macca, friends in the game who are gone. I miss them – and I think of them, âhe said The news.
âI used to tell this joke about guys who bought me a watch – and Macca was my sidekick.
âWhen he was deputy manager of Pompey, we were in Manchester, with his mother and father coming to meet him.
âWe had a bunch of business people with us and I’m telling this story about a magician and my watch.
âHalfway through Macca stood up and said, ‘Is this the watch the players gave you, Kev? I went âYes Macca, that Â£ 15,000 watch.â They all listen to every word I say.
“Then came the punchline:” I cut in the pie and you will never guess what was in it? “. I can see Macca talking to his mom and dad, but he’s listening, he’s waiting for his role.
“He shouted, ‘Your watch? I replied “No, steak and kidneys”. Then everyone burst out laughing.
âHe always liked this joke. Watch me smile now talking about him. People come and go, but you remember the right people – and I still think of Macca all the time.
âWhen Sarah was sick, he rang. He lived it himself and he was there for me. My friend.
âMacca had previously had kidney cancer, which resulted in his withdrawal. I knew it had come back, but I didn’t know it had become so bad. I thought they were taking care of it.
âHis death made me think, it was a wake-up call. Macca was a young man of 54, like me.
“I hear daddy say: ‘Son, you are 54 years old now, you have less in front of you than what happened’. It’s not morbid, it’s realistic, and I just knew I needed to spend more time with Sarah.
âMacca’s death marked me. This and Sarah’s illness made me realize that life is so, so precious.
âI had to take a step back from Pompey. It was time. ‘
McCormack’s association as a Blues kitman dates back to the summer of 1999, when a position became vacant following the retirement of Gordon Neave.
He then occupied a pitch-side seat during the reigns of 18 permanent managers, eight different owners, two promotions, two FA Cup finals, two EFL trophy finals and three play-off campaigns.
However, the world of the ex-Royal Marine was devastated in July 2020, two days before Pompey’s first leg against Oxford United in the League One play-off semi-final.
Sarah had been diagnosed with serious health problems and just a week later underwent surgery at a Guildford hospital.
The procedure turned out to be successful, but a year later McCormack announced that he would devote more time to his wife and two children.
Assistant kitman added: âIt’s very surreal, I guess I had become institutionalized at Pompey.
âWhen you’ve been doing a job for so long, you’re part of a family. So you leave them and it’s very hard, but it will get easier once I get used to it.
âI am quite moved to talk about Sarah’s illness even now. It affected me enormously and still concerns me today.
âWe have been together for 28 years and married for 25 years. I am her husband, my wife is sick and there is nothing I can do about it. You feel so insignificant.
âI’m not saying it because I want sympathy, because I don’t have it. It was a curve in our lives that millions of people have also faced – but until it happens to you, you don’t really understand.
âEven though it’s been clear for a year, it’s still in the back of your mind.
âSarah needs scans every four months and it lasts up to five years, but she’s doing well. However, you still have these negative thoughts in your head and I try not to be a negative person.
âI was spending a lot of hours with Pompey across the country and I was like, ‘I have to spend more time with the family.’ That’s what made my choice.
‘I am her husband. In your wedding vows, it’s for better or for worse, for sickness and health. To be fair, I’m sure if the boot was on the other foot it would do the same.
âEveryone goes through things in life, it’s just the way you deal with them. My way was to take a step back and spend more time with her.
– But I’m still here at Pompey. When it first appeared that I was resigning I was walking along the Southsea waterfront with Sarah and the number of people who stopped me and wished for a ‘happy retirement’ was scary!
âI haven’t retired, I still do Monday to Friday, 37 hours a week, only now, it’s just normal work.
âThe hardest part for me is letting go. The responsibility is no longer mine, it’s Shaun’s, and if he needs me or needs advice, I’m here for him.
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These days, Saturday afternoons consist of McCormack following Pompey’s progress through Radio Solent, relying on his former manager Guy Whittingham to reflect the games he no longer watches.
During this time, he has almost finished building a new summer house at the far end of the back garden of the family home in Waterlooville.
Gardening remains a passion, as does boxing, with the 54-year-old now dedicating some of his new free time to helping young coaches at the Heart Of Hayling Boxing Club on Wednesday nights.
As a talented amateur boxer, McCormack won three ABA super heavyweight titles and won a record 10 Welsh crowns.
Although, as he often points out with a chuckle, he has become more famous for washing men’s underwear.
âThe other weekend I went to a Royal Marines Boxing Association reunion at the Forest Pines hotel outside of Scunthorpe,â McCormack said.
âNormally I can’t attend because I work as a kitman. On that occasion I was able – while Pompey was in Accrington.
âThere were boxers there in the 1950s and I had an interesting conversation with an 84 year old man called Tom, who won the ABA titles in 1956 and 1957. Former world champion Terry Marsh was also there.
‘The entertainment of the evening was a Scouser who won Stars in Their Eyes in 1986 as Gilbert O’Sullivan. He was very good, a bit of an actor.
âI can do things like that now. If Sarah and I want to walk the dog on Saturday afternoon in Bournemouth, we can. Or how about spending the weekend in the New Forest?
âI can see more of my parents. Dad is almost 80 and Mum 76, I talk to them twice a week, but I never saw them much.
âI almost lost my mother two years ago and now I don’t have to worry about finding the time to go back to Wales, I’m going. They’re getting along now, you don’t know how long they’ll have in this world, so it’s good to spend some more time with them.
âThen there is giving something back to boxing. I have been to the Heart Of Hayling Boxing Club four times to do some coaching with young people.
âThey have 40 to 50 children and they have already learned a lot of the basics. I get on the pads and do some sparring with them. It’s just nice to see kids getting a little exercise instead of being stuck on an Xbox.
“Boxing has been my life and sport has been my life, it’s very hard not to be at all.”
These days, McCormack can’t straighten his arms, due to the floating bones in both elbows.
Having been medically released from the Marines at the age of 32 with back and knee problems, he admits that the physical demands of transporting the Pompey Kit dumpsters have become increasingly difficult over the years.
Not that the 54-year-old fancies sympathy or plans to move away from Pompey’s backroom for good.
He added: “We all get old, we all have aches and pains, that’s what it is. Just bite the wood and crack, I’m not ready for my pipe and my slippers just yet.
âI don’t know when I will retire, I don’t think I will ever be able to. I need something to keep going, my brain needs to be busy, I’m not the type to sit around doing nothing.
‘Sarah even tells me when I’m gardening: “How do you get motivated?”. It’s too easy to sit down.
âI don’t mean this out of disrespect, but when people retire, those who tend to die early are the ones who don’t stay active. I’m not an old man, I’m only 54, but I need to keep my brain stimulated.
âI’ve always been on the move since I was seven, whether it’s boxing, masonry, the Marines or with Pompey. Now all I want to do is slowly go back to my twilight years.
âI haven’t had a bad life. It’s not morbid, but if I died tomorrow, I would have done more in my life than most people did in two lifetimes. I am grateful for it.
âI won three ABA titles, 10 Welsh titles, I have been to Wembley five times, I have won the FA Cup, I have made another FA Cup final and I have traveled to Europe in the Cup Uefa. These are memories.
âWhether it’s a midlife crisis, the death of good friends or Sarah’s illness, there is a time when you need to take stock of your life. It’s something I’m glad I did.
âI will always support Pompey, whether I work here or not. They have been a big part of my life and always will be.
âBut sometimes you have to put your family first. It was a massive decision, but the right decision.
A message from the editor, Mark Waldron
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