Calum Riddell passed away on Tuesday, less than three months after marrying best friend Rebekah.
SHOCK. Sadness. Devastation.
Calum Riddell’s family and friends have found this week hard to process.
His light was cruelly extinguished on Tuesday afternoon. A brain tumour that he had expected to keep battling, with the acerbic wit and relentless good humour he carried in life, took him far, far too soon.
The fact he lived just 28 years is a bitter reminder that life can be unforgiving. He should have been planning a future with his new wife and best friend Rebekah.
Riddell’s friends and family have spent the last few days trying to rationalise the news, trying to make sense of how this is possible.
Nairn County, Riddell’s club, has been hit hard. Information had been relayed from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary via a series of calls and texts back to Nairn.
Wednesday’s game against Rothes was pulled in the wake of Riddell’s deterioration, after he was rushed to hospital on Sunday. Tomorrow’s game with Huntly has gone the same way.
For Graeme Macleod, Nairn’s director of football and press officer, it has been a rapid downturn that is hard to grasp.
“I was with him on Sunday and other than his physical appearance, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong,” he said.
“He still had that sharp wit about him. I’m just in shock that 48 hours after that, he’s no longer with us.”
Club chairman Donald Matheson delivered a series of painful phone calls on Tuesday evening. His fond memories of Riddell were as the resident joker of the team.
“He was a livewire; when you were on the team bus, he was the main instigator of any hi-jinks,” said Matheson. “It’s desperately sad for the family. It’s sent a huge shock through the club and it will be a quieter place without him.”
The initial diagnosis came on July 22 while Riddell and new wife Rebekah were on honeymoon. He had a stage four glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumour.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy commenced in Aberdeen at the start of September. A slew of fundraising events – a 24-hour cycle challenge, a gin and prosecco afternoon and the mammoth From Sea to Land Together We Stand Challenge – had gone a long way to raising £43,000 towards research and treatment options.
Riddell made the decision to shave his head after starting to lose his hair. It was an act his pals decided to replicate.
A game between Nairn County and a Calum Riddell All Stars team, scheduled for Station Park at 1pm on Sunday, will still go ahead, at the request of Rebekah and Calum’s father Ian. Entry will be via donation with collection buckets at the gates.
Ronnie Sharp had known Riddell for a decade. He coached him at junior side Nairn St Ninian and brought him back to the Wee County last year, eight years after he left. Even Sharp, normally a resilient character, allowed himself a moment of weakness.
“He’s probably the biggest, brightest personality I’ve met in football,” said Sharp, who played with Ian Riddell at Nairn St Ninian.
“He had a fantastic sense of humour, which is probably how everyone will remember him. The whole town has been affected in some way by it.
“It’s fantastic the family still want the game to go ahead; it will be great for his friends and team-mates to be together, doing something Calum absolutely loved. Outside of his wife and family, he just loved football. At St Ninian, you’d get a call from him saying he was just coming back on-shore and was ready to play.
Calum Riddell (front) in action for Nairn County.
“He’s one of the nicest boys I’ve probably met in my lifetime. He always had a cheeky glint in his eye, which is probably how I’ll remember him.”
Best efforts have been made to shield the players from the news but it is inevitable they would be struck by it. How could they not? A team-mate, but more importantly a friend, will no longer share a dressing room with them.
Glenn Main, team captain, will be the one looked to to rally the side. He will lead Nairn out in Sunday’s game, sure to be an incredibly poignant, emotional moment.
“It was a pleasure and an honour to have known Calum for a long time and to have played alongside him, after he got himself into the best shape of his life and made the step up to the Highland League,” he said.
“He was always the guy getting the boys geed up for the match, then afterwards getting the spirits going on bus journeys home, whether celebrating or commiserating a game. He was loved by so many in Nairn.
“There’s been a massive support from all Highland League teams who have pulled together, which we’re thankful for.”
An old proverb says a man is known by the company he keeps. Riddell will be known as an unforgettable character.
To donate to the Calum Riddell Fund, visit www.gofundme.com/calumriddellfund.