It was a Christmas present to remember when young patients got to meet their footballing heroes during a special hospital visit.
Baggies stars were the guests of honour at Sandwell General Hospital as they dropped in to deliver presents and spread some Christmas cheer.
Children at the hospital in West Bromwich were surprised when seven of the club’s first team players walked through the doors of the ward to hand out gifts.
They were joined by West Bromwich Albion’s two mascots, Baggie Bird and Albi, who joined the players in getting photographs with the excited youngsters and their families.
First to receive a gift from the squad was Destiny Hill, aged 11 from Tipton, who was joined by her mother Zoe Hill, 33, and her 62-year-old grandmother Vicky Bates, from Blackheath.
Her mother said: “I think it’s really great what they do. It makes such a difference to their day. “
The young patient added: “I really enjoyed meeting the players. I’m really looking forward to Christmas.”
Striker Shane Long met Rajbir Kaur, 28 from Edgbaston, who was with her two-year-old son Harman Singh. She said: “It was really exciting to meet the players. He is a little too young to understand what’s going on, but he will enjoy the drum they gave him.”
The Baggies stars have visited the hospital for 10 years in a row and will also be dropping in at Russells Hall in Dudley next week. Players including Billy Jones, Claudio Yacob and Boaz Myhill handed out a variety of gifts including craft sets, musical instruments and signed posters.
“The hospital visits are arranged by the club each year and the lads fully support them,” said skipper Chris Brunt. “Like me, a lot of the lads have got children of their own and know how tough it must be to be in hospital at this time of year.
“If we can go anywhere and help someone who’s not having a great time, it’s our job to do so – and we’re more than happy to do it.”
Centre-half Jonas Olsson added: “Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces makes you smile as well. It’s an emotional experience but if we contribute a bit of Christmas joy, it makes you feel good about yourself.”
Hannah Smallman, 32, was at the hospital with her 19-month-old son Jacob and her Baggies-mad partner, Darren Floyd, 33. Miss Smallman, from Kinver, said: “I heard they would be coming down and I told all my relatives I might get a chance to meet them, but none of them believed me.”
Mr Floyd added: “It’s just so nice to see them coming out. It’s really brightened up our day,” Brunt, Olsson and Ben Foster also gave a gift to Harry Hawks, nine, who was being visited by his father Daniel Hawks, who had travelled from the Isle of Wight. The 34-year-old said: “He’s had a lovely time meeting the players. It makes a big difference to the children’s day.”
The players even had a chance to kick the ball around with two-year-old Taylee Huckfield, who was in the full baggies kit for the visit. His grandfather Barry Shermer said: “I’ve been supporting the team all my life and have been all over the world.”
“It’s good for the children to get to meet them all and create the next generation of Baggies fans.”
Players also signed the back of his kit so he would have something to remember for the rest of his life.
His mother Danielle Huckfield, 29 from West Bromwich, added: “The whole family are massive Baggies fans, so it’s a dream come.”
Staff also had a chance to meet their favourite players. Joanne Maher, Play Worker at Sandwell Hospital, said: “It really makes the children’s day a lot better and brings some smiles to children who may be feeling down at this time of the year.”
West Bromwich Albion Chief Executive, Mark Jenkins, said: “The Christmas visits to two of our nearest hospitals are part of our ongoing community work and something we take great pride in.
"The players are always warmly received and these visits help to boost the morale of the young patients and their families during what is an extremely difficult time of year to be in hospital.”