It’s a story that brought together one of English football’s most idolized stars and a special girl from the North East. Abbie Pinder, 14, has stormed into the hearts of the nation as the passionate fan has developed a heartwarming connection with Manchester City star Jack Grealish.
For starters, Abbie suffers from cerebral palsy, a condition that affects the teenage girl’s daily life, as she is tied to her wheelchair. But with dad Graham’s close affinity to his beloved Sunderland AFC, that story begins during England’s joyous journey through the European Championships last summer.
“What first attracted Abbie to doe-eyed, tanned, toned pin-up Jack Grealish?” the Manchester Evening News asked Graeme. “A teenage crush,” he smiles as he picks up the story. “But it’s not just a teenage thing. Her mother – my wife, Zoe – has been very supportive of her because she loves her too!”
“She was never interested in football or footballers, or other celebrities or movie stars or pop stars or anything like that, but there was something about Jack. I can’t imagine what it was!” he smiles back. “After that, every time he was on TV, she wanted to watch him, she wanted to know more about him and she was captivated by him.”
And so it all started, and that typical dad like fashion, Graeme decided to get tickets for City’s Premier League game against Chelsea at the Etihad in early January. The father and daughter positioned themselves near the team bus but were on the wrong side and could only see the back of Grealish’s head as he walked towards the stadium.
Although Grealish played the whole game as City won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kevin De Bruyne, the handmade sign Abbie designed to catch the No10’s eye failed to catch on. do the job because they were too far from the field. Undeterred, Graeme decided to email the club asking for advice on how to bring Abbie closer to her hero.
The family arrived at the home game against Fulham, and what would unfold on a freezing January afternoon in Manchester would light up Abbie’s life – her first encounter with Grealish. Introduced to reception to escape the cold, Abbie, Zoe and Graeme were posted behind a desk as Premier League title favorites Pep Guardiola entered the stadium ahead of the draw.
Which brings us to the number one viral video. With Graeme acting as chief videographer, his phone perfectly captured the moment of a lifetime as a small nod from a security guard alerted Grealish to where his No. 1 fan was waiting patiently. .
As the clip shows, Grealish walks over to Abbie and takes the time and care to autograph a Manchester City shirt with a personalized message, while mum Zoe giggles enthusiastically and says “She loves you.” Grealish is not done. Abbie cries tears of joy as he walks around the counter, gives him a big hug and shakes his hand. It’s a really moving moment.
He may be the most expensive player in English football at £100million, but his encounter with Abbie is priceless, as is the beaming smile on his face as she comes to terms with what has just happened.
That first meeting did more than propel Abbie into the hearts of football fans around the world. It sparked a brilliant friendship between her and Grealish’s sister, Holly, who also has cerebral palsy, and launched a relationship of mutual warmth and respect between the two families.
After the 4-1 win over Fulham, in which Grealish played 77 minutes, he received a message to Pinders that he wanted to give Abbie another signed shirt. Unable to deliver it himself because he needed treatment for an injury, he asked teammate Kyle Walker to do the honours.
Then, Abbie learned that Grealish was keen to invite her and her family to a future match as guests. Graeme was blown away by the gesture of generosity.
“I thought ‘it will never happen’ but it happened!” Graeme continues. “After that Abbie spoke to Jack’s sister Holly on social media and they exchanged numbers. They have been best friends since then and chat almost every day. We were invited to join Jack’s family. Jack in his private board for the Brighton game. He paid to put the four of us in a hotel and pay for everything. There was Abbie, me, Zoe and Abbie’s twin sister, Ellie.
“The Grealish family were so lovely. Holly, Jack’s mum, Karen, his girlfriend Sasha and a few family friends. They were all there and we felt welcome. We couldn’t meet his dad, Kevin, but he I spoke to him before the game to make sure we were being looked after and I spoke to him many times on the phone. What great people.”
It was during this game, a 3-0 Premier League win over Brighton & Hove Albion, that viral video #2 was filmed. Grealish was an unused substitute that day, but his starring role came after the match when he joined his guests in his dressing room.
The clip – again recorded by Graeme – shows the 26-year-old playmaker opening a thoughtful gift from Abbie. A natural charmer, he seems sincerely delighted. But what was the prezzie that left him beaming?
“The video doesn’t show what she bought him,” Graeme says. “What are you buying Jack Grealish? You could get him a Lamborghini and he could say I already have three! You’re not going to impress him with an expensive and flashy present, so we wanted him give something personal.
“It’s a pair of Peaky Blinders cufflinks! He honestly loved them. You can see it in the video. He really enjoyed the gift. We know Jack loves Peaky Blinders because Holly told Abbie so and of course there is also the Brummie connection.
“Abbie also gave Holly a Coronation Street mug because she’s a huge Corrie fan. These were just a few tokens of our appreciation to say how grateful we were to the entire Grealish family.”
Not only has this shared experience sealed a lasting respect between the families, it has given Abbie a major boost as she prepares for surgery ahead of her 15th birthday later this month.
“She is due for hip surgery soon and she is in a lot of pain, but it has meant the world to her,” adds Graeme. “We feel like we went there as fans and left as friends. We got lovely messages from Kevin, Holly and Sasha and Jack is a credit to his family. You can tell he was brought up well.
“We hope the friendship continues. Abbie doesn’t want or need anything at all. Everything she wanted they have already given her and so much more with their respect and kindness. We are all Adopted Man City fans now. My wife hit the nail on the head. This goes beyond football rivalries. Jack and his family and the way they have been with us gives you back your faith in humanity. I just wish Pep played it a little more often!”