Dean Holden moved as fans unite in support after tragedy

At Shrewsbury tomorrow, for some, winning will mean the world. Walsall fans will flock to Greenhous Meadow and their weekend will be ruined should the Saddlers lose.

Dean Holden beats Frank Demouge

But there is more to life and when he returns to his former club Dean Holden will be reminded of the, often hidden, kindness of football.

The defender and wife Danielle tragically lost their 17-month-old daughter Cici to meningococcal sepsis, a rare bacterial blood infection, on holiday in Lanzarote in May.

It is the worst a parent can face but Holden says he has been “overwhelmed” by the support they have received.

The Walsall Football Supporters’ Trust have raised money for his chosen charities with t-shirts and the Shrews and ex-clubs Chesterfield and Oldham held a collection.

It has humbled and comforted the 33-year-old and his family as they try to cope with the loss of their daughter.

He said: “It’s been overwhelming. I had a tough time through the summer as everyone knows, but coming here just seems to have fitted right for me.

“The Walsall fans are selling the t-shirts for Cici and people have seen me going out there with a smile on my face and trying to make it the best I can.

“Sending messages is one thing but people putting their hands in their pockets is something else. It means something to me and my wife and in some small weird way it helps.

“You get messages on Twitter giving you support. They don’t know you and it can’t bring Cici back but it helps give you a bit of a feel-good factor. Away from the football there’s not been a lot of it.

“It has given us a lot of comfort knowing people are thinking about us.”

And before tomorrow’s game the Shrews will present Holden with a cheque for £1,070.74, raised before their 1-0 defeat to Swindon in September in memory of Cici.

It will be donated to St Mark’s Primary School in Worsley, Greater Manchester, where the couple’s children, Joey and Ellis attend, and the Meningitis Trust.

Some of the money will be used to build a memorial garden at the school with Chesterfield and Oldham also raising £2,511.92 at their game last month.

Holden made 52 appearances for Shrewsbury between 2009 and 2011 and has rapidly become a favourite at Walsall. He thanked both sets of fans for their understanding.

He said: “It’s amazing. I wasn’t at Shrewsbury long, only 18 months, and we didn’t have a lot of success but they’ve been great, here at Walsall too.

“I have played alright. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been Franco Baresi by any stretch, but I give it everything in every match and the fans have taken to that.

“It has helped me off the pitch as well. It’s keeping me focused away from the troubles. The lads are brilliant, the gaffer and Rich (O’Kelly) are great.

“From the minute I met them in the summer and convinced them to sign me they’ve allowed me to come in and be myself and the lads are so supportive.”

Holden, who will be recalled tomorrow after being rested for Walsall’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy exit to Port Vale on Tuesday, admits he never expected such generosity.

He said: “We’ve not done one of these JustGiving pages because we didn’t expect anything.

“From the funeral we said if anyone has any donations they could send them to the school and on the back of that Chesterfield have done something, Shrewsbury too.

“Dan Mole (Walsall secretary) has talked about doing something here and it’s kind of spiralled.

“If people keep donating it’ll keep going towards the school but we’re not actively asking people to give because what we’ve achieved already is beyond what we expected.

“In the early days it was tough but I’m a glass half-full guy.

“I’ve got two great kids at home who are doing brilliantly at school and I’m so proud of them. My wife and I are stronger than ever.”