Travis Munn: Ex-Mansfield and Boston player returns after life-threatening illness

By Owen PhillipsBBC Sport
Travis Munn with staff at the London Royal Free Hospital
Travis Munn with staff at the London Royal Free Hospital where he had his treatment

Desperately ill and ravaged by "the most brutal" chemotherapy, former professional footballer Travis Munn was thinking about how he could say his final goodbyes to his wife and two young daughters.

Seven months later, the 25-year-old has resumed his playing career with East Midlands Counties League side Borrowash Victoria.

His return in a pre-season friendly on Saturday represents a monumental step in Munn's recovery from scleroderma, a life-threatening degenerative auto-immune disease.

But, while it is a dream to be back playing, his comeback is by no means the most significant sporting event in his household this summer.

His daughters, six-year-old Freya and four-year-old Bella, have taken that accolade.

"I have realised how precious life is and I took it for granted," Munn told BBC Sport. "I went to sports day and saw my little ones running around and it was the best thing in the world."

It was when Munn could barely run around that it really began to dawn on the former Mansfield Town and Boston United defender just how bad things were.

Travis Munn
Travis Munn during his time at Boston United

But his troubles actually started when he was 20 in 2014, about two years before his diagnosis.

"It was just a normal training session for Mansfield," he explained. "It was cold but not really bad and my hands were just blue. I was struggling to breathe so the physio said to sit it out."

He went to hospital and had various tests but nothing came back so he just carried on with his career despite his fitness steadily "going downhill".

"I was easily one of the fittest lads at Mansfield but I was dropping fast," he said. "I felt like a 50-year-old man."

Munn, who had been on the verge of the first team at Mansfield, moved to Boston and battled through for six months under manager Jason Lee, the former Nottingham Forest striker. But he just "got worse".

They were both equally perplexed and it was not until Munn's diagnosis that the severity of his condition started to hit home, forcing him to give up football in 2016.

"I was so unfit. I was out of breath walking up the stairs," said Munn. "But even after they told me about scleroderma I didn't really take it in. At first I thought it would be like hay fever."

'Why is daddy lying in bed all the time?'

But he soon realised.

"It's not cancer but it just takes over your body and rips you apart," he added. "It attacked everything, my skin, organs and bones. I couldn't do the simplest of tasks and was told there was no coming back.

"I asked how long and they said it could be three months or three years.

"My kids would ask my wife 'why is daddy lying in bed all the time?'

"I knew I wasn't going to just lie there and wait to die - that's just not me."

Munn read about pioneering stem cell treatment in the USA and that eventually led to the chemotherapy and radiation treatment to destroy bone marrow, followed by transplantation of his stem cells at the end of 2018.

"It was like a computer reboot, a restart for my body," he said.

"I had six or seven days of chemotherapy for four or five hours a day and it was the worst you can have. It was absolutely brutal. I was close to death and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."

He got sepsis and was gravely ill. The low point was having to contemplate how to tell his "amazing" wife Harriet and the rest of his family that - and he struggles to say the actual words - he would probably "not be around" for much longer.

Travis Munn and daughters Freya and Bella
Travis and family enjoying happier times

Thankfully the treatment has worked and he "feels like an 18-year-old again".

And the youthful exuberance will be in full effect when he lines up for Borrowash on Saturday, within walking distance of his home in Spondon.

"I have signed for the season," he said. "I know the manager Marc Sargeant and he has been great with me, as have my former managers Jason Lee and Paul Cox.

"I have had some offers from higher clubs but it's close to home and perfect for me.

"It's unbelievable and it's going to be very emotional. Six months ago I was ready to say goodbye - now I am playing football again.

"Football was never really on mind when I was ill, but now it feels like a dream coming true."

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