Five years ago the lives of Marc Albrighton, his wife Chloe and their family were shattered.
In June 2015, Albrighton’s mother-in-law Sue Davey and her partner Scott Chalkley were killed when a gunman attacked tourists in Port El Kantaoui, Tunisia.
Joel Richards, Adrian Evans and Patrick Evans were also among the 38 people, 30 of them British, who died on a horrifying day.
It is an event which will always remain raw but has brought people together, uniting them in grief while aiming to guide them through it.
In the aftermath, Joel’s mum Suzy and his brother Owen, who survived the attack, set up Smile for Joel to help those affected by similar tragedies.
In an age where it has happened since and sadly could do again, Leicester’s Albrighton is a huge supporter of the charity and, after his own heartbreaking experience, knows why it is needed.
“I’ve seen first-hand how so much tragedy can rip a family apart,” the winger told the PA news agency.
“The time it happened was the worst time of my life. I will never forget the days leading up to finding out, before the deaths were confirmed.
“We were still searching, still trying to get hold of people in Tunisia. The after effect it leaves, members of the family are still suffering now.
“That’s just what I see. What Suzy and Owen have gone through is, if it can be, a million times worse. What Owen must have seen I wouldn’t even imagine.
“It’s definitely matured us and made us grow up as people. Chloe has had to grow into being the mother of the family, she has a younger brother and sister.
“They are a close family, her dad is best friends with his son Conor and if he needs to speak to a motherly figure that’s Chloe now.
“She’s dealing with that as well as the grief she’s had to go through herself. It’s given me a newfound respect for her, in watching how she’s dealt with it.
“We wish it were different but we always try to involve Sue in the family, two of our children met her and one didn’t but we will make sure she knows everything about her. That’s important.
“Chloe and Sue were ever so close. You take it for granted when you can just go round and have a cup of tea.
“When I was proposing to Chloe normally you go and ask her father but on this occasion, and I said this in my wedding speech, I felt I had to go and ask Sue as well and she was nothing but encouraging.”
Albrighton always speaks well, is considered and honest, and the incident has understandably had a profound impact on the former Aston Villa star, changing his view on life.
Less than a year after the tragedy he helped Leicester shock the world to win the Premier League.
It was a triumph which meant more after the trauma the family suffered and Albrighton was left feeling Sue remained with them.
“Before every single game that season, in the warm-up, I’d see a feather. I came home to Chloe after every game and said, ‘I’ve seen that feather again’,” he said.
“I’d never believed in anything like that before, hadn’t given it a second thought.
“But when something like that happens it changes your mindset. It certainly makes me think twice and make me believe.
“I’d just see a feather at some point before the game. Chloe’s always believed in stuff like that but even more so now.
“To achieve what we did achieve that season took our vision elsewhere, it made us focus on something else rather than just the tragedy. We were focusing on a positive and looking forward.”
Smile for Joel has already helped over 1,500 families and raised £300,000 and also works closely with the UK travel industry, ABTA and the Foreign Office to raise awareness of safety abroad.
It also supports Prevent, one of the four elements of the UK’s counter terrorism strategy which helps to stop people being drawn into terrorism, and the FA on the Joel Richards Foundation Legacy Fund with Joel having been a Birmingham County FA Youth Council member and a promising referee.
On Saturday, Albrighton will take part in Run for Joel where fundraisers will complete a run, walk or cycle over three or five kilometres.
The coronavirus pandemic means they have to do it from home and, ahead of Leicester’s final friendly against Blackburn, Albrighton will play his part for a charity so close to his heart.
The 30-year-old said: “We’ve got a game in the afternoon but I’ll take the kids out. We’ve done it in previous years. My eldest (Matilda) really enjoys it. It’s a run but people can walk, cycle or take the dog out.
“The fact Suzy and Owen have turned such a negative into such a positive is incredible.
“No one knows what others are going through. Everyone deals with it differently. Some people have got things in place and others don’t.
“It’s all the little things you don’t think about, arranging funerals and things like that, you have to do it, there’s no getting away from it. You don’t feel like doing it but you have to.
“They will help out with everything and have done so much for so many people.
“It’s even harder now with Covid, you think, ‘where’s the light?’ and that’s when Suzy and Owen step in and help out. They love seeing other people recover and get back on their feet.
“There is still the worry this could happen again and probably will. It’s going to affect more lives.
“It means what Suzy and Owen are doing is so important. For them to be at that stage only a few years on is amazing. I’m sure it’ll only get bigger.”
:: Smile for Joel is a leading charity that supports families affected by homicide and tragic events. To find out more and sign up for this year’s #RunforJoel go to www.smileforjoel.com
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