Sunday, 22 January 2017

Chelsea groundsman killed in his own home was honoured at team's Hull match

A former Chelsea groundsman who died after being hit over the head in his own home has been honoured at the team's game against Hull.

Carl O'Brien was an avid football supporter who died at the age of 55 at the hands of an unknown assailant in an unprovoked attack.

His children Laura and Joe O'Brien have opened up about their father's death ahead of the Premier League clash, when a minute's applause will be held in the 55th minute.

"You never think it's going to happen to you, it's still very surreal," daughter Laura, 29, told Croydon Advertiser .

On December 3, 2016 Carl was woken in the night at his home by a constant ringing on his door. He then went outside where he was attacked.

Having been initially released from hospital Carl, who was still feeling unwell, was recalled and tragically died of a brain haemorrhage on December 23.

The attack, which fell on the same day as his only grandchild's first birthday, turned the lives of his family upside down and just over a month later they still speak of him in the present tense.

Laura said: "You see your dad, who is a 6ft 4ins tall strong man, deteriorate like that, and it's difficult to take in. We don't want him to to be defined by that."

Carl, who was known to perhaps hundreds of Chelsea fans as 'Wurzel' because of his crazy hair and similarity to Wurzel Gummidge, was a larger than life character – and not just physically.

A Chelsea supporter for 40 years, he was also known to many former players, having worked as a groundsman at Stamford Bridge in the late 80s and early 90s.

Stories of his travels with the club reflected his generosity including an occasion when Chelsea were away to a Ukrainian team in the Champions League when he gave a ticket to an 18-year-old barman who was desperate to see the match.

Joe, 21, said: "The lad didn't really speak English, and they sat together throughout the game."
Wurzel was a well-known face with 'Chelsea On Tour', visiting more than plus countries. He followed the side to the 1998 Cup Winners Cup final, driving to Stockholm to see Chelsea beat Stuttgart.

On the club's greatest night, in Munich, he spent the hours following the game drinking with and consoling Bayern fans – until the sun came up.

Having experienced his first game in the 60s, aged six or seven, against Sheffield Wednesday with his father, he was living the dream of Chelsea's unexpected, and long-awaited success.

After leaving the employment of Chelsea in the early 90s, chasing a better wage to provide for his young family, he became a postman for 12 years, and after that a courier.

Finally, he settled as a black cab driver, something which suited his 'free spirit',and enabled him to fit-in his trips with Chelsea.

His son Joe, said London's tight-knit licensed taxi drivers have been particularly kind and helpful following his father's death, though the greatest support has come from the Chelsea community.

"I've got a lot of comfort from seeing things about dad since then," added Laura, who was given the middle name Chelsea. "I can't believe the kindness there's been."

Joe has been contacted by fan group We Are The Shed about producing a banner to honour 'Wurzel's' memory.

When asked, he would always say his proudest achievements were Joe and Laura for many reasons, not least that they were the first generation of his family to go to university.

Because of the nature of his death the family has yet to receive his body back from authorities, prolonging the heartache.

They hope to be able to plan a funeral in February, where his two passions of rock music (he saw Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festival aged nine, and was smitten) and Chelsea, will be represented.
"We have good and bad days," said Joe, "and the stories from other fans really cheer us up."

There was a celebration of Carl's life before the Hull match on Sunday at a location near Stamford Bridge with family and friends sharing drinks in his honour.

Joe will be in the Matthew Harding Upper, where he watched so many games with dad, to share the moment - which he says will be emotional.

Laura, who was unable to get a ticket for the match, will not be far away.
"He was a good man," she said. On Sunday, a great number of people will stand up to publicly share the sentiments.

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