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Hoddle's a hero..he gave my dying son Ryan the happiest day of his life.

HE has become public enemy number one for what was seen as a cruel insult to the disabled. But to tragic teenager Ryan Heath, Glenn Hoddle was a hero.

The axed England soccer coach made a dying wish come true for wheelchair-bound Ryan.

On the eve of a vital match, Hoddle made time to arrange for football- mad Ryan to meet his idol, Liverpool's Steve McManaman, and a host of other England stars.

Yesterday Ryan's mum Michelle, 37, told The Mirror: "Glenn gave my son the happiest day of his short life.

"That man should never have been sacked - he should have been given a medal. He made my dying son experience immense joy, but made me promise to keep it quiet.

"Now I feel I have to break that promise to defend this man. I am outraged with the claims that his comments offended disabled people. That man never offended my son.

"He opened the door to him and granted Ryan his final wish. How could anyone sack a man who cares so much."

Ryan, from Harlow in Essex, where Hoddle grew up, died in his mother's arms in September 1998, aged 16.

He had a brain disorder known as SSPE. It emerged at about the age of 14 because of reactivation of a measles virus he caught as a two-year- old.

From a bouncy teenager in the school football and gymnastics teams, he became unable to walk or talk.

Michelle, now separated from Ryan's father, said: "Before long, he could not use his knife and fork properly, or even tie his shoelaces.

"The final diagnosis was made on December 20 1996. We were told he had only weeks to live"

Michelle, also mum to Jason, 18, and Jenna, 16, said: "It broke our hearts. I decided there was only one thing left to do - to try to fulfil his last wishes."

Ryan had two loves - Liverpool and England footballer McManaman and pop icon Michael Jackson.

Michelle said: "I spent a fortune phoning America, but I got nowhere. I also tried Liverpool. They sent us a signed photo of Steve and offered us match-tickets. But Steve was unavailable because he was with England.

"I was desperately worried Ryan would die before achieving his dream. It was my sister Lisa who took things into her own hands and contacted Glenn Hoddle's bother Carl.

"They are a local family and Lisa used to babysit for him years ago.

"I knew nothing about it until the phone rang that night and Glenn was on the other end."

He invited Ryan to meet the squad at their HQ at Bisham Abbey, Berks, the next day - eve of a World Cup qualifier against Italy.

Michelle said: "He asked all about Ryan and his illness. He was so understanding. As we walked into the foyer of the hotel, I didn't recognise anybody but Ryan went rigid with shock. There in front of him were Paul Ince, David Seaman, Matt Le Tissier and Alan Shearer, all playing cards together.

"From the moment we arrived to the moment we left, Ryan was awestruck and could not utter a word.

"Glenn came over to apologise for not meeting us at the door. He had a chat with Ryan and then winked at me, hinting that he was off to get Steve McManaman.

"When Steve walked in, Ryan's mouth dropped wide open.

"Steve shook Ryan's hand and afterwards all my son could do was stare down at his hands - they had touched his idol. I just burst out crying. He worshipped Steve so much.

"It was an amazing thing for Glenn to do during such a pressurised time." England's finest descended on shaken Ryan who stared in wide-eyed wonder.

Gazza and David Seaman joked with him while all the others signed an England sweatshirt.

Steve McManaman, who was celebrating his own birthday, gave Ryan an England top.

Michelle added: "He hardly ever took it off and insisted on wearing it for all their games.

"Glenn was extremely affectionate to Ryan. He kept coming up behind him and squeezing his shoulders like a father. He apologised for not being able to spend more time with us."

"Ryan left clutching loads of presents, photos and England kit. He was still speechless." Michelle firmly believes the dream day in February 1997 improved Ryan's condition.

She said: "The doctors said he was in remission. But he started getting out of the wheelchair and walking. He even tried to kick a ball around in the garden.

"This was all down to Glenn's generous actions. Are these really the actions of a man who believes the disabled are paying for sins in a previous life?

"I know they are not - and so did Ryan. When he told his school friends about his day, he broke down sobbing with sheer joy.

"He was just 16 when he died, but I can never thank Glenn Hoddle enough."
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 4, 1999
Words:820
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