Ben Tozer: ‘Dad was scared because he knew something was wrong’

Ben Tozer: 'Dad was scared because he knew something was wrong'

“The last time I spoke with him, the last words we said was ‘I love you’ to each other even though we didn’t know what was going to happen.”

The emotions are still evidently raw two months on as Wrexham club captain Ben Tozer talks about the loss of his father.

On a Saturday evening in late April, Keith Tozer had watched from the stands as Ben lifted the National League trophy amid jubilant scenes at the Racecourse Stadium.

Wrexham had just beaten Boreham Wood to win the title and secure promotion back to the Football League after a 15-year absence.

Defender Tozer had played every minute of the record-breaking campaign, and his father regularly made the round trip of more than 500 miles from his home in Plymouth to north Wales to watch him in action.

“He would come to the games up here and would drive up with my uncle,” Tozer said.

“He was here the day we won the league, which was amazing for me.”

Ben Tozer lifts the National League trophy with Luke Young
Wrexham club captain Ben Tozer lifts the National League trophy in April 2023 with team captain Luke Young, who was also born in Plymouth

But amid the title-winning celebrations, Ben sensed that something was not right with his father.

“He’d come to the games but he’d always get off before I got out, which I found a bit of a red flag,” Ben added.

“He wasn’t well but I never got to see him and it was almost as if he was hiding from me, which now I know why.

“I went to a friend’s funeral at the end of last season and one of the guys my dad worked with said ‘I saw your dad and he didn’t quite seem the same’.

“My brother said it, my wife raised concerns and my dad said ‘It’s alright, I’m getting checked, I’ll get checked’.

“Obviously it ended up too late because by the time he got checked he passed away a few days later.”

In July, Keith, having been admitted to hospital, was diagnosed with leukaemia but sadly a few days later died.

Ben describes those few days as a “whirlwind”.

“I trained on the Monday, got the train down to Plymouth and got there just before they switched everything off,” he said.

Ben Tozer (left) in action against Chelsea's Nicolas Jackson on the US tour.
Ben Tozer (left) in action against Chelsea’s Nicolas Jackson on the US tour – a week after his father Keith died

“The gaffer [Wrexham manager Phil Parkinson] helped massively, straight away even little things like first-class ticket on the train, offered to get me a helicopter to Plymouth, things like that.

“The Tuesday it was literally the only day I was going to be in Plymouth apart from his funeral.

“The day after he passed away we sorted his house out, Wednesday I travelled back up and then we were away to America which was a bit strange because I felt too normal.

“I felt ‘right I’ve got a job to do, I’ve got to do this, crack on’.

“I didn’t even think about it, I was so busy. It was one thing after another.

“I suppose if I was home, what would I do? Just cry? So I might as well just crack on.”

Tozer shared the news of his father’s passing on Twitter, with the club’s co-owner Ryan Reynolds among those to pass on their condolences.

The former Newcastle United player travelled with the rest of Wrexham’s squad for a historic tour of the United States, where the club was gaining huge interest due to the success of the documentary Welcome to Wrexham.

But it was before the first game against Chelsea in North Carolina that the enormity of his loss and the emotions of the previous week hit Tozer.

“I was warming up – and no-one has seen this and it’s first time speaking about it now – I was getting upset and tears were coming down my face,” Tozer says.

“I knew that he’d have been at home watching that game whether it was two o’clock in the morning or not.

“Then the whole tour went on and by the end of the tour we were in Philadelphia, I didn’t speak to anyone apart from my wife back here but I seemed fine again.

“Then the day before we came back from America, it was almost like I was scared to come home to face the reality.

“I came back, trained on the Tuesday, got the train down to Plymouth after training, had the funeral on the Wednesday and the season started on the Saturday.

“He would have been at the first game, which was tough.

“Dads are the ones that took you to games, that’s where it’s been toughest, around the games really.”

Tozer, 33, acknowledges that he is yet to fully come to terms with his father’s death.

But by speaking publicly about his loss, Tozer hopes other men do not put off going to see a GP if they feel unwell, especially symptoms of leukaemia such as fatigue, bruising in unusual places and weight loss.

“It’s hard for me to say it but my dad was scared. He was scared to hear what was the matter.

“And also being a bloke, an old school bloke, never wanted to admit anything was wrong.

“But ultimately he was scared to know what was up because he knew something was wrong.

“Even for myself, I’ve always been someone who rolls up their sleeves and gets on with it.

“It’s a bit of a taboo but it’s something that’s so important to go and simply get checked – don’t leave it too late.

“If there is anyone who has symptoms that are abnormal then please go and get them checked.”

If you have been affected by issues raised in this article, there is information and support available on BBC Action Line.

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