Final whistle and fond farewell for Curly O'Callaghan who was a 'local celebrity' of grass roots football in and around Leamington and Warwick

Mark 'Curly' O'Callaghan will be fondly remembered as a 'local celebrity' of grass roots football in and around Leamington.

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 10:46 am
Mark 'Curly' O'Callaghan during his football coaching and management days.

He died, aged 56, last Saturday as a result of the treatment he had undertaken to beat cancer taking its toll on his body after he battled bravely against the disease for more than ten years.

Over the 56 years of his life Curly, a father-of-three, was involved in management and, or, coaching for a number of teams including Bishops Itchington FC, Stockton FC, Southam FC, Woodford FC , Redditch FC, Racing Club Warwick FC and Leamington FC.

He also introduced many youngsters to the sport and organised charity matches for various causes.

Mark 'Curly' O'Callaghan.

Simon, one of Curly's sons, said: "Dad always joked to me that he was a 'local celebrity' of football around here.

"But if I ever went to a pub I wouldn't be known as Simon, I would be known as 'Curly's son'.

"Since he passed away my phone has been pinging constantly with people getting in touch to pay their respects."

Curly, a former Kinsgway Primary and Myton School pupil who lived in Priors Marston in the later years of his life and worked in the exhibition industry for Storm Display and later PDK in Stratford, was an upbeat character.

He would endearingly speak in football management cliches when he provided updates to the Leamington Courier about his battle with the cancer Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia (CLL) which started around 2010.

He was treated throughout the illness by the Churchill Hospital in Oxford but in 2018 he was given just six months to live.

But he fought on and in November 2019 his sister, Theresa, donated bone marrow for a transplant.

Since his transplant, he suffered from Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) which a normal side effect of this type of procedure.

He was still unwell however he had started to make some progress.

Just before Christmas 2020 he was told by doctors that he was 100 per cent cancer-free for the first time in ten years.

Curly was over the moon with this news and was extremely hopeful for the future.

He was delighted that he had he won his fight against cancer.

However in mid-January of this year he picked up an infection which caused him to start going downhill.

After a few weeks, he was hospitalised and it was discovered his liver and kidneys were failing.

This was due to the infection and Veno Occlusive Disease (VOD), which Curly was discovered to have as a rare side effect of his transplant.

The immediate family were called in on February 14 to say their goodbyes, however, Curly battled right to the end until he passed away on February 27 at 9am with his family around him.

Simon said: "Since the sad passing of Dad, we have been overwhelmed with how many people's lives he had touched, especially within the football community.

"It's been lovely to see people online sharing tributes, stories and photos of our dad which has meant a lot to the family.

"We are completely heartbroken but would like to thank the Churchill Hospital in Oxford for everything they did for him over the last ten years and right up until the end.

"Although we will always miss him, we've been lucky to have the time we did love him very much."

Former Courier sports editor Paul Okey has paid tribute to Curly.

Paul said: "“I heard about Curly at the weekend and like many it came as a shock.

“Even though he had been battling cancer for as long as I can remember, he did so with such bravery and positivity that you never for once thought he wouldn’t be around, whether it be to chat football at Brakes or Racing Club or just phone for a chat to let me know how he was getting on.

“He took over Racing Club at a particularly low point for the club and was instrumental in giving it back a sense of pride and professionalism which helped lay the base for the dramatic transformation which we see today.

“But it was his love for football in general that will stay with me and many more whose life he touched over the years.

“So many people will mourn his passing because so many people called Curly their friend.”

Curly was a father to Simon, Tom and Molly, a husband to Angela and grandad to Maisie.

His family are planning a funeral which will involve a procession through Priors Marston, other nearby villages and Southam.