A TERMINALLY ill Hearts fan who flew 12,000 miles to see his heroes play in the Scottish cup final yesterday visited Tynecastle for the first time in 39 years.
Gary York, who is confined to a wheelchair by motor neurone disease, spent two days and thousands of pounds flying from New Zealand to Scotland for tomorrow’s Hampden clash.
The 52-year-old from Auckland, who could have as little as two years left to live, sat by the pitch he last saw aged 13 and declared: “It’s a dream come true to be back – it’s the holy land.”
Brian, Dale, Gary,and Jim, pictured with Gary’s wife Iris, have never gone to a game together
Gary, originally from Broomhouse, Edinburgh, emigrated to New Zealand with his family in 1973.
But after marrying, raising a family, and enjoying a successful career as a toolmaker, he was diagnosed with MND in 2009 and given a life expectancy of one to five years.
Gary has avidly followed Hearts’ fortunes since he emigrated. When it became clear his team would take on Hibs in the final, his family moved heaven and earth to organise a final trip home to see the game.
Gary and Iris travelled from Aukland, New Zealand for the game
Yesterday, Hearts ground staff organised for Gary, his wife, Iris, and three brothers, to visit the ground.
An overwhelmed Gary said: “I never thought I’d be in Tynecastle again. It was pretty amazing to be back.
“The ground’s changed a lot. We just had the terraces and there was only cover on about a quarter of it so if it was raining most of the punters got wet.”
Ground staff arranged for Gary to visit Tynecastle for the first time in 39 years
It was a bitter-sweet visit for Gary, who knows he is living on borrowed time.
He said: “It’s very doubtful I’ll be back, so it was a golden opportunity. It was a tough flight. If I hadn’t had Iris and my brother Brian travelling with me I wouldn’t have been able to make the flight.”
Gary added: “It’s a once in a lifetime game. Obviously I’m hoping for a Hearts win, nothing less than a Hearts win but it will just be good to see them play again.
Gary hopes to raise awareness of Motor Neurone disease
“The fact that they are playing Hibs is a bonus but once Hearts had reached the final, that was it. In New Zealand we have Sky TV but they don’t show any Scottish football so the chances of seeing it, even on TV, were virtually zilch.
“I would have fought tooth and nail to be here and I think Iris and Brian have fought tooth and nail to organise it and manage to get tickets.
The family – including brothers Dale, 51, Brian, 50 and Jim, 40 – will spend £100 on a taxi from Edinburgh to Hampden for the game.
Today’s match will also be the first time he has gone to a game with all three brothers, of whom Dale and Jim still live in Scotland. Brian is a high-profile racing commentator in Sydney, Australia.
An avid Hearts fan, Gary checks their match results every week
Asked how he will react if Hearts lift the trophy, Gary joked: “I’d like to say I’ll be jumping for joy but I’ll be rooted in a wheelchair.
“It would be something else if they did win. But having been there, win or lose, will be enough.
Gary started going to Tynecastle in 1966. “My dad started taking me down there and when I got to about ten we used to sometimes walk from Broomhouse or catch the bus down,” he said.
“Normally now on a Sunday morning I get up and switch the computer on and go to the BBC website and see how Hearts got on.”
Gary’s condition cuts off the signals from his brain to his body and is terminal. He struggles even to pick up a glass of whisky, having to drink through a straw.
Gary and Iris, 49, will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in August. Their daughters, Courtney, 14, and Samantha, 16, have stayed at home.
Iris worked with brother-in-law Brian to make Gary’s Cup final dream come true
Iris, who moved to New Zealand from Drumchapel, Glasgow, in 1975, said: “I was ecstatic when I found we’d got tickets. I was so happy for Gary, I thought this is a trip of a lifetime, this is the ultimate for him. He loves Hearts more than life itself. Ever since I’ve known Gary he’s been a mad supporter.
“I thought it’s going to be tough, but nothing’s impossible. There came a time between Sydney and Singapore and I thought ‘oh my god, I hope the next 12 hours aren’t going to be like this’ because Gary was uncomfortable, we had to move him side to side to release the pain in his joints. I had to feed him and make as comfortable as I could. I’d never regret coming all this way.
“When I walked into Tynecastle I thought ‘this is really moving’. You can’t put a price on it, the opportunity was amazing.”
Gary hopes his brave trip will help increase public awareness of his condition.
He said: “Basically the neurons and your nervous system start dying off so the signals for your muscles to work don’t happen and then your muscles just waste away.
“It’s eventually terminal. Every case is different and I’m fortunate in that mine started in my foot and it’s working up the way and it seems to be slower than some.”
A spokesman for MND Scotland said: ” Gary and Iris York have travelled more than 12,000 miles, this shows just how determined they are to continue living life to the full.
“The York family have managed to secure four free tickets for the match – Gary and his brother will have free seats at the Hearts end and there are two additional tickets up for grabs at the Hibs end. Get in touch with MND Scotland ASAP if you wish to get your hands on the free Hibs tickets – visit www.mndscotland.org.uk for more information.”
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