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RIP, Marton Fulop: Ex-Sunderland goalkeeper’s mother talks about her son’s brave battle

Ex-Sunderland goalkeeper Marton Fulop died tragically after a brave battle with cancer in 2015 - and ahead of his 5th memorial camp, his mother has spoken about her tragic loss, and her encounters with SAFC fans abroad.

Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Marton Fulop’s family host a memorial camp for the former Sunderland goalkeeper every year and just before the 5th camp, Marton’s mother Gabriella spoke to Nemzeti Sport about how she has been coping since the death of her son.

Marton died of cancer in November 2015, at the age of only 32.

Following Marcika’s death, as Gabriella - a former basketball player of note in her native Hungary - called him, her and Marton’s father Feri travelled to New Zealand as part of their therapy, and immediately ran into a Sunderland fan on the other side of the world:

We wanted to go to New Zealand a long time ago, Feri and I got on a plane and we were there in less than forty hours. I saw a man in a red and white jersey in the first shop, I had to go there, it was a Sunderland jersey, it was my Marci’s club. Not Chelsea, not Real Madrid, not Bayern Munich - Sunderland, on the other side of the world.

I also bumped into a Sunderland supporter in Malta, he looked strange when I asked if I could take a photo, but when he found out who I was he hugged me and told me, he had been crying at the news of his death.

Following Marton’s death, his mother explained that she felt compelled to go back to work the following Monday as it was somewhere she would have to function normally:

In retrospect, I think it was very therapeutic for me that when my Marcika closed his eyes for good one Thursday in November, I went to work the following Monday at my job, at the pastry shop. Because there I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t collapse, I had a job to do and I could smile at the customers.

If I think back, in the last period, there were four, almost five months when I was lying next to my Marci, mainly in Germany, where he was being treated. And that was good for me, and after the funeral I thought: why was that? I came to the conclusion that I had a job to do at the time, it kept me busy, it distracted me. If my Marcika had a cough at three in the morning, I’d go and see what he needed. And my little love said to me: “Mum, stop jumping around, go to sleep too!” I was busy taking care of him, just as I was busy with my pastry duties. Going home, being home, was the hardest thing for a long time.

When Marton first had surgery on his arm, where the tumour was located, it appeared the results were encouraging but Gabriella recalls how he found out the tumour and returned and that he would not contemplate having his arm amputated:

A few months after the first surgery, when the results were encouraging, we were optimistic, cheerful, and we were having coffee on the corner of St. Stephen’s Park in early January, when he tapped his arm and said, “Mum, it’s back, I can feel the tumour under my skin!”

Of course, it occurs to me that when amputation came up, my Marcika wouldn’t hear of it: “I’m a goalkeeper for one thing,” he winked, “how can I show my child how to protect and especially how to hug me?”.

A few days before he died, she whispered, “Mom, maybe that would have been the answer...”. Maybe that wouldn’t have helped either.

True, when we were in Portugal two or three years after the funeral and saw the waitress, the taxi driver, missing her forearm, it was spooky, like a sign. I have a million memories, like every mother has of her child, but one moment in Athens stuck, though I would erase it if I could.

We drove to Marcika’s match, that was the first time he had pains, the specialists suspected a haematoma, a sports injury, we weren’t worried when the masseur at Marcika’s club, Asteras Tripolis, said: he suspects it’s cancer, shall we have it checked?

It was raining, that’s how I know, I wanted to wave my umbrella at him: ‘Cancer? What are you saying?” I still wonder why I didn’t listen. When it turned out how bad the problem was and the doctors told us to pray, I still deflected.

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While Marton was still alive but very ill, she remembers a moment of weakness, which Marton quickly talked her out of:

I once got weak and it slipped out of my mouth: if something happens to my son, I’m going to go up to the tenth floor and...

My Marcika heard and he poked me really hard: “Mom, I’ve had enough of fighting with myself, I can’t bear the burden of having to heal because of you.” Of course I was right. He kept saying, “Dad, Mom, if I have to go, live the way you have been living.” “My little boy,” I said, “I can promise you many things, but certainly not this.” How could our lives be the same? How should we survive? There is no recipe for that either.

No, just as we had no choice, but we were surrounded by friends and acquaintances, and they gave us a lot of strength. When I invite guests, old teammates, friends to the Marton Fulop camp and the busy people don’t say “well, I’ll see” and stuff like that, but “it’s not an issue, I’ll be there”, it helps. It still feels good to this day.

A lot of money was spent on treatments, as the family tried in vain to look for hope, selling the family home and car as they desperately looked for anything that would help. Gabriella said she was very thankful for former basketball colleagues that helped out without hesitation:

Hundreds of thousands of euros were spent on medicines, treatments, injections, and when, at the very end, we found some terribly expensive but almost certainly unnecessary drugs, there was talk of what to do.

There is no such thing, I thought at the time, to make my son see that we are not going to buy this, we are already sorry for the money! We sold the property and the car, and we’ve been working ever since, I’m not complaining.

When we sold the flat, I called two former team mates, two times national team players, and asked them if they would help me out, but the purchase price had not arrived yet. It was tens of millions of forints and they said yes immediately. I even wrote a piece of paper saying we owed them money, but the old team-mate tore it up: I didn’t really mean it, did I? It’s good to think that these gestures were not for me, not for the situation, but for my Marci.

When it’s pointed out that the background photo on her phone was Marton, Gabriella is asked whether opening her phones thousands of times per day tears open the wounds each time, she said it does but it also fills her heart with warmth:

Yes, it does, yet it fills my heart with warmth when I look at it. Such a beautiful child!

Marton’s mother Gabriella shows a photo of her son

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