Popular Horsfield faces his most difficult opponent
Geoff Horsfield enters hospital today to start treatment for testicular cancer. The striker, who turns 35 at the start of November, made his situation public last week and added that it had prompted his immediate retirement from football.
I'd like to take this opportunity to wish Geoff all the best with his recovery and recount a story about him that I was told a few years ago but have never forgotten.
It was 1998 and the Shaymen were perilously close to securing promotion to the Football League.
Prior to a crucial evening fixture, Jackson, who had been brought in with just a handful of matches to go in order to give the side a steadying and experienced presence at the heart of the defence, turned up in good time to begin his preparations for the game.
He was soon joined by Horsfield, the club's star player, the man who scored all the goals but who worked as a bricklayer during the day.
"I had already eaten a light meal and was loosening up for the game," recalled Jackson. "Geoff turned up straight from the building site, still wearing his work gear and with a Big Mac in his hand, but it didn't stop him scoring."
Everyone I have spoken to maintains that Horsfield has always been a grounded individual who appreciated what it was to make his living playing football.
He was prolific for Halifax and remains one of the club's most popular players. His goals played a crucial part in the club's promotion to the Football League and also persuaded Fulham to shell out £300,000 for him almost exactly 10 year's ago.
I interviewed Horsfield in 2002 and found him to be an honest and open individual who seemed extremely uncomfortable when talking about his success as a professional footballer. He had moved to Birmingham by then, Trevor Francis paying a then club record £2.25m in 2000, and had just been named the club's player of the year after a season that had seen the Blues promoted to the Premier League.
But Horsfield seemed happier talking about his early non-League days, at Athersley Reaction Club in the Barnsley and District League.
"I was 16 at the time and the other players in the team were all 25 or 26 - good working lads," he told me. "They enjoyed a drink and we would get two or three beer coupons for winning."
After Horsfield made it as a professional, he apparently donated £25,000 to his former club to help them develop their facilities.
Horsfield also enjoyed success at West Brom after the West Midlands club signed him for £1m in December 2003 following a short spell at Wigan. His goals at the end of the 2003-04 campaign were crucial in helping the Baggies claim promotion to the Premier League.
The Horse, who also represented Scarborough, Witton Albion, Sheffield United, Leeds United, Leicester City and Scunthorpe United, also scored a crucial goal for the club on the final afternoon of the following season to help them secure survival.
I watched Horsfield play against the team I support several times. Sometimes he broke my heart with one of his trademark bustling finishes; on other occasions a heavy touch at the wrong time led to a collective sigh of relief from me and my fellow fans.
But it was obvious that he was giving total commitment and is hardly surprising that he enjoyed a special rapport with supporters. The responses on various 606 threads after the news of Horsfield's illness emerged tell their own story.
Here are just a few of them:
"Geoff always gave us 110%, not always pretty but very effective. I wish him and his family all the best. I am sure that with all his battling qualities he will prevail."
"In age when players generally are variously overpaid, Horsfield is a professional who, wherever he played, impressed as hard-working and always put in a good shift. Fans can forgive any player who works hard for the team. Best of luck Geoff and thanks for the good times."
"We love you Geoff - you are and always will be a legend! From one of your adoring Halifax Town fans."
Many commented on how Horsfield's pragmatic approach to life will stand him in good stead as he battles testicular cancer. The Yorkshireman himself has said that he will face whatever battles lie ahead. And he will no doubt be buoyed by the knowledge that numerous footballers, like Jason Cundy, Neil Harris and Alan Stubbs, have all beaten the illness in the past.
Stubbs, now a coach at Everton, admitted: "It's a devastating blow for anyone, but there is a way through it. I've played against Geoff a few times and he's the sort of character that will face this head on."
Jackson, Horsfield's former team-mate, has also battled back from adversity after being diagnosed with throat cancer earlier in the year.
When I spoke to Jackson about his treatment just a few weeks ago, there was no disguising the pain and difficulty he had been forced to overcome. Thankfully, with the support of his family and friends, he has beaten the illness and is now back at work.
Hopefully Horsfield will do the same.