The Sun, 4 Aug 2000
Mark's tough as Diamonds
By Dave Kidd
MARK SALE is a man who always looks on the bright side.
When the giant Rushden & Diamonds striker lost all his hair during a
year-long battle against cancer, he just smiled and thought of all the
opposition defenders he could terrify with his new look.
Sale, 28, returns to training with the Conference title favourites on
Monday, just a month after doctors gave him the all-clear in his fight to
beat the killer disease.
And he said: "I didn't let things like the hair loss get me down.
"Think of it like this: I'm 6ft 5in tall and 14½st at my fighting weight so
if I've got a skinhead too, not many centre-halves are going to want to mark
me, are they? I'll look pretty scary.
"The hair has just started to come back now but I'm going to keep it short.
If it's good enough for David Beckham and Roy Keane, it's good enough for
Sale was on top of the world last summer after his fiancee Paula gave birth
to their first child - a daughter, Jessie.
Then he secured a move from Colchester to Rushden, close to their family
home in the Midlands.
But then the man who earned a Wembley play-off winner's medal with
Colchester just a year earlier was struck down by Hodgkin's Disease, a form
of cancer that attacks the glands in the neck, armpits and chest.
Sale explained: "Everything seemed to be going right in my life then, when I
started playing for Rushden, I was getting lethargic and never seemed to
have any energy on the field.
"The manager Brian Talbot thought I was just being idle - and I don't blame
him. He was flogging me hard in training but I kept feeling worse.
"I played five first-team games at the start of last season but I wasn't
doing myself justice and got plenty of stick from the fans.
"Then I found lumps under my arm, I kept waking up in hot sweats and itching
"I had blood tests and the results came back all wrong. After that, a chest
X-ray revealed a cluster of lumps the size of tennis balls in my chest.
"No wonder I kept feeling knackered, trying to run with that little lot
After more tests, the former Birmingham, Torquay, Preston and Mansfield
striker received the phone call he had been dreading.
He said: "I heard the word cancer and I was scared stiff. For a few days I
was convinced I was going to die.
"It all seemed so unfair. I'm a very fit, young, big, strong bloke. I've
never smoked, never drunk too much or lived on junk food. Then, at 27, I'm
told I've got cancer.
"But as soon as I met Dr Adrian Smith at the hospital in Burton-on-Trent, I
got back to my positive self.
"He told me if they had diagnosed it a few months later it might have spread
to my lungs and killed me but, as it was, I had a great chance.
"The six months of chemotherapy was tough. It breaks down your immune
system, so even a cold makes you feel dreadful.
"But I got so much support from Paula, friends, family, the club and my
"And then there are the nurses. You hear about footballers earning £25,000 a
week or more - well these are the people who should be earning that. They
work so hard and they work miracles.
"They helped keep my spirits up and I was still able to laugh about things.
"The doctors told me my hair could come back different. Instead of being
dark and curly it could be blond and straight.
"Paula said if it grew back ginger she would dump me - that's when I decided
to go for the Beckham look!
"We had to call off our wedding, which was scheduled for this summer, but
now we'll re-book the register office as soon as we can."
Sale is back in the gym at Rushden's Nene Park HQ this week, dreaming of a
return to action.
He said: "When I first got ill, I just thought it would be great to play on
the park on a Sunday - now I want to get back in the Football League.
"Once I've built up my strength, I want to be in the first team by
"Then the fairytale ending would be me scoring the goal that wins the
Conference title for Rushden.
"I was on loan to Plymouth last year and I was there when the Carlisle
goalie Jimmy Glass scored that last-minute goal against us that kept them in
"So I'm well aware miracles CAN happen."
The Sun is making a donation to the hospital where Mark was treated. You can
also send a contribution to Burton Cancer Patients Fund, c/o Tina Bailey,
Chemotherapy Unit, Queen's Hospital, Belvedere Road, Burton-on-Trent,
Staffordshire, DE13 0RB.