Rugby League Benevolent Fund General Manager Steve Ball has paid tribute to Matt King OBE, the former London Broncos Academy player who tragically died last week.
Matt, 33, died in hospital in London on Tuesday morning, 17 years after suffering a serious spinal injury playing for London Broncos against Halifax Academy.
The accident led to the foundation of the RL Benevolent Fund. In 2006, Steve joined the Benevolent Fund and a special bond developed between Steve and Matt, who developed into one of sport’s most inspirational young men, despite the physical limitations of his injury.
Speaking a few days after taking the fateful call from Matt’s father, Steve was still struggling to contain his emotions at the loss of such a special individual.
“In the 15 years I’ve known Matt, I have become great friends with him and his whole family,” said Steve.
“I’ve met thousands of great people during my lifelong involvement in Rugby League, but there aren’t many I’m prouder to have known than Matt King.
“The RL Benevolent Fund has supported Matt ever since in a number of ways, from adapting his home to funding his education to enable him to graduate with a first-class law degree.
“I’ve seen him mature from a teenager to an accomplished artist, a lawyer, motivational speaker and, his biggest achievement, a loving husband and proud father of two.
“Matt’s wife, Ilona, is crestfallen by his death but is determined that their children, two-year-old Arabella and baby Georgia, who is just 11 months old, will always be aware what a wonderful person their daddy was.
“The RL Benevolent Fund will continue to provide support for Matt’s family; that’s why we’re here.
“I’ve taken hundreds of calls in the last few days from people who are devastated by the news. Matt touched the lives of so many people in Rugby League, including from the team at Sky Sports, who always stayed in touch.
“Through his inspiration, Jack Berry, a founder member of the Injured Jockey Fund and a personal friend of Tim Adams, was able to ask Sir Alex Ferguson to write the foreword in Matt’s book, which he was delighted to do.
“Matt also did a lot of work with the Variety Club of Great Britain and worked with a wide range of other charities. Matt was just tireless and full of life. That’s what makes his sudden death so hard to take.
“Matt had been suffering from a bowel problem for quite a while: it’s a common problem with people with his condition, sadly. He’d been in and out of hospital since before Christmas, but seemed to be doing well after a successful operation.
“Matt was confident he’d be okay. He felt he could beat anything.
“Tim (Adams) and I visited him on a regular basis and the last time we met he showed me a family video where he had attached a small trailer to his wheelchair and was towing Arabella around the house. They were both in fits of giggles; it was simply lovely to see.
“Unfortunately, Matt developed a blood clot which went to his heart and that’s what killed him.
“We’ve been inundated with messages of love and support from the wider Rugby League family, both here and around the world, and it’s clear how much of a difference, how inspirational a figure Matt King was during his short life.
“The family are currently finalising arrangements for a private funeral which will take place in the light of Covid restrictions, and we’ll be making an announcement about their wishes in the next few days.
“The RL Benevolent Fund will be organising a celebration of Matt’s life, once lockdown restrictions are lifted.”
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