I found out this morning that it’s the fifth anniversary of the passing of Michael Maidens, a young footballer for Hartlepool United. Involved in a traffic accident on Friday 19th October 2007, he passed away that night.
Despite having fallen away from the first team by the time of his death, aged just 20, he had made a number of first team appearances, and scored what was voted the goal of the 2005-06 season in a 3-1 win over Huddersfield, aged just 18.
The number 25 shirt (his squad number) was retired, the club’s award for best goal each season is now known as the Michael Maidens Goal of the Season Award and various tributes were made around the time.
I wrote a little thing as tribute, which appeared on the now defunct Rivals.net website, and the fanzine Monkey Business. While the website no longer exists, I have the original copy of what I’d written, which I will now quote in full.
Michael Maidens, 1987-2007, R.I.P.
“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these; ‘it might have been’.”
– John Greenleaf Whittier
It is, of course, always painful to hear about the death of a youngster, which unfortunately, due to suburban violence or the same sort of accident that claimed the life of Hartlepool United’s number 25, seem to be increasingly prevalent in the news over the past few years.
Still, it can be easy to take the news in, absorb it and reflect on what a shame it is, then move on, more or less unaffected. The reason for this is not cold-heartedness, simply the fact that it’s difficult to appreciate the loss of someone who has only become known in retrospect; the death is all the more shocking if a previous relationship is in place, even the tenuous sort that exists between player and fan.
Having been a part of Hartlepool’s juniors since the age of eight, pedants could argue that he was Hartlepool’s longest serving player. And given the extent that the youth system at the club has improved since that time, and the often Darwinian nature of youth development, his achievements seem all the more impressive.
Having seen the majority of his professional appearances at Victoria Park as well as a few of his games away from home, it was hard not to be impressed by his talent; quick, good close control, and a ferocious strike, he certainly had the ability to have a successful career in the game. In fact, were it not for the fact that James Brown and David Foley have been moved back from the front-line while they develop their physique, Michael could quite easily have bettered his impressive 12 starts and sixteen substitute appearances.
His goal against Huddersfield two seasons ago should, in itself, be testament to that. A team-mate bursting through the middle lost the ball, which then broke to Maidens, still significantly outside the area. Taking a touch to steady the ball, he then struck a sweet curling shot, placed perfectly to make it nearly unstoppable. Considering that this was against a playoff chasing team in the presumably tense circumstances of a relegation battle, it was a goal even better than the raw technique it required.
Having made his first team debut as a seventeen year old, and been monitored by the Scotland U21s management, the signs were that he would have a strong career ahead of him. It is, of course, impossible to say for certain what would have followed in the remainder of his career, but it’s far from unreasonable to assume that he would have become a player admired from far beyond his club, a name fans of other teams look on with envy. Perhaps even, had a small amount of luck gone his way, playing at a higher level and winning a few Scottish caps.
Perhaps more importantly, going by the interviews and the quotes from those who knew him well, he was well-adjusted, humble, and was apparently hugely enthusiastic. There have been a number of quotes telling how he was always smiling and joking, was dedicated and hardworking, always the last person on the training ground. All in all, a good guy and a colourful character; a far cry from the increasing image of a young footballer as a dull-minded narcissist full of self-importance before even breaking into reserve team football.
Of course, given the fact that he passed away at such a young age, it’s easy to paint his life as a tragic one, a life not fully lived, only a shadow of what he might have been. The alternative is that his short life was spent doing something he hugely enjoyed; through talent and hard work he had a taste of something that most football fans would envy; he has brought pleasure to literally thousands of people.
And, as should go without saying, his memory will live on.
Given the extent to which modern games are filmed and photographed at all levels, whether officially or by fans with cameras and mobile phones, a significant portion of his career will, somewhere or other, have been committed to film. It’s easy to imagine that, years from now, the children and grandchildren of Maidens’ peers will come across either footage of his single goal for Pools, or one of the tributes that has already been put together on the internet following his demise.
Obviously, all of that can only be a small condolence at best to his family, friends and team-mates. Michael was about the same age as myself, and I find it difficult to comprehend his death. In fact the temptation while writing this has often been to write in present, rather than past tense. Being fortunate enough to have never gone through anything similar, I can’t even begin to imagine how much more horrible it must be for those close to him, so I won’t try to articulate the inexpressible.
A life can’t be measured by a list of achievements, nor by a series of anecdotes. Ultimately the value of a life should be measured in how it affects others. In that respect, the brief life of Michael Maidens was far from wasted.
I was inspired to write the above, in part, by a moving video which was edited together and appeared over the course of the weekend, drawing from photos and clips available on the club’s official video channel.
In fact, going by the date on the video, it looks to have been edited and placed on Youtube by Saturday 20th, which makes the turnaround pretty impressive. Worth a watch, in my view.
For the next home game, against Brighton, the players took to the field all wearing the name Maidens on their shirts.
The players ran out to what I think is Let Me See by Usher, (though I may be wrong on that) apparently Michael’s favourite song. This was followed by a minute’s silence pre-match, which was prefaced by a tribute from John Orley the stadium announcer at the time.
I didn’t know Michael personally, and my only connection with him was as a fan of the club and an admirer of him as a player, but I feel that the above is worth sharing.