FIVE years ago this week, 24-year-old Daniel Wilkinson collapsed and died while playing for Barnsley club Shaw Lane AFC.
The defender was playing in a cup match at Brighouse Town on September 13, 2016.
It was later found he had the heart condition Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy.
Craig Wood, who was chairman of Shaw Lane, said: “It’s gone quick and it’s still very raw – especially for Dan’s parents. It’s never going to go away.
“It doesn’t seem like five years because I can still picture it like it was yesterday.
“We were 2-0 up, I was sitting in the stand and enjoying the game then the next thing Dan is lying flat out.
“I didn’t see him fall but I thought he must have been caught by another player.
“But it became apparent within seconds that something was seriously wrong because he didn’t move at all.
“It’s the last thing we expected back then. Now we’re a bit more aware of it in football but, at that time, it was never talked about or thought about.
“It was such a shock and no one could believe what was happening.
“The medical teams from both clubs did what they could until the paramedics arrived.
“We went to the hospital and we knew what was coming.
“We were all just sitting there numb. To see grown men in floods of tears, it’s a moment you’ll never forget.
“It was a horrible moment for Dan’s family and everyone involved with the club and the pain is still there.”
Wilkinson had recently joined the club but had already made a big impression.
Wood said: “I always picture him with a smile on his face. He established himself really quickly in the side and he was a really happy, positive guy.
“I took some video before the game in the changing room and they were all laughing and joking.
“I zoomed around all the players and Dan is smiling and laughing on that footage. That was about an hour before he passed away.”
Wood is now a trustee of the Daniel Wilkinson Foundation which aims to raise money and awareness.
He said: “Dan’s parents Barry and Gillian have devoted their lives to the charity. It’s going really well.
“They have handed out 38 defibrillators to sportsclubs and 300 young people have been screened. One of the defibrillators was used to save the life of a youth player at Stocksbridge Park Steels. That makes it all worthwhile if it saves just one person’s life.
“Obviously it has taken a hit due to Covid but, hopefully, in the next year, we can step things up again and raise more money.
“Clubs have raised money and Dan’s parents and friends have held events.
“There is a plan for Dan’s team-mates to play a charity match back at Brighouse.
“It’s so important.
“We saw with the Christian Eriksen incident this summer that it can happen to anyone.
“At that level, there will be top equipment at hand but that isn’t always the case at grassroots level.”
Shaw Lane, initially known as Aquaforce after Wood’s plumbing company, rose from the County Senior League to the Northern Premier League where they were competing for promotion to the National League.
They won four promotions, the Sheffield Senior Cup and – most famously – reached the first round of the FA Cup against Mansfield Town which was shown live on BT Sport in 2017.
But, at the end of that season, Wood shut the club down – seven years after it was formed.
They had struggled to build a fanbase and find a homeground, leaving Shaw Lane to groundshare with Athersley Rec.
Wood said: “As a non-league club, I think we experienced more than a lot of clubs have experienced in their history in terms of the highs and lows.
“The low being what happened to Dan and the highs of the FA Cup.
“It was some journey.
“We were a successful club with promotion after promotion.
“There was a lot of resistence locally and there just wasn’t room in Barnsley for another successful football team at that kind of level.
“There just wasn’t the support and fanbase there, but I wasn’t to know that when I started.
“After the FA Cup game, we struggled to increase the fanbase and it became an exit strategy. I couldn’t keep putting my own money in.
“We never really had an identity or somewhere we could really call home.
“I still get emails from people asking if I would be interested in investing in clubs and I do have a look at it.
“Perhaps if the right opportunity came up, I would get back involved.
“I would never say never because it brought me some of the best moments of my life. When FA Cup time comes round I think: ‘I wish I was involved with that again.’”