Setting himself the challenge to raise at least £20,000 for a cause close to his heart, Barons’ captain Rob Eley has taken to the ice for one last time to conclude his testimonial season with the club he has served for over a decade.

When Rob Eley announced his decision to retire from ice hockey at the end of Solihull’s 2015-16 campaign, it was quickly followed up with the offer of a testimonial season from his hometown club, with the view to raise money for worthy causes of the captain’s choice. Eley was quick on the uptake of this proposal, opting to raise funds for both the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust Charity and The Willow Foundation, his wife Catherine having undergone treatment for cancer on Ward 19 of Birmingham’s Heartlands Hospital which specialises in the treatment of haematological cancers such as Leukaemia.

As a result, Eley specified that most of the money be donated to Ward 19 to improve patient care whilst additional contributions would be given to the Trust’s wider Cancer Services fund.

Reflecting on the success of his19for19 campaign, Eley took the time to reveal more about his selection of Heartlands Hospital and the Willow Foundation as his main beneficiaries:

“Since my wife Catherine was admitted for treatment a second time, I was able to witness for myself the dedication and passion of the staff working on Ward 19 at Heartlands Hospital. They work tirelessly every day to make the experience of their patients as comfortable as possible through an indescribably scary time. This is why, when the club generously offered me a testimonial season, I enthusiastically accepted and immediately decided to support the men and women who work tirelessly in the fight against cancer in my own way – by raising as much money as I can for two important charities. The first is the unique fund set up to support the work of Heartlands Hospital’s Ward 19. The irony that this ward bears the same number as my Barons shirt is not lost on me. This is why I decided to name the campaign ‘19for19’. This ward and its fantastic staff, who have looked after my wife and myself, and have helped our family through an immensely difficult time, will be the main beneficiary of my fund raising efforts.

“The second beneficiary is the Willow Foundation who are dedicated to working with seriously ill adults aged 16-40 years old, allowing them to experience ‘special days’ with their families. These days range from going to watch tennis at Wimbledon, family trips to amusement parks and even tickets to music festivals.  The work this organisation does to help families deal with such difficult experiences is truly inspiring.”

His chosen charities confirmed, Eley was then given the opportunity to organise a busy schedule of fundraising events which would lead up to an end-of-season testimonial match against an All Star team, with ice hockey legends such as Hilton Ruggles, Joel Poirier and Michael Tasker joining forces to facilitate Eley’s 19for19 campaign. Though the final figures have not yet been confirmed, it is now believed that the Baron has exceeded his original target of £20,000 by twice the amount.

“When we first came up with the idea of 19for19, little did I know how much time and effort it would take. However, this campaign would not have been possible without the help of the Solihull Barons and my family. Many other people and organisations have also helped us along the way which has led to a string of successful events, including charity matches against both Sheffield Steelers and Widnes Wild, an evening with Dave Simms, a 19for19 team entered into the Great Birmingham Run, a Christmas skate with the Barons, race night, a black tie ball and Hole 19 Golf Day.”

Further to this, Eley has also gained the support of fellow ice hockey players over the course of the season, including that of Widnes Wild player-coach Scott McKenzie who auctioned his Manchester Storm jersey to raise over three hundred pound for the 19for19 campaign.

Soon turning his attentions to the conclusion of his playing career, Eley admits it was no easy decision to call time on a long and successful playing career in the lower divisions of British Ice Hockey. Starting out with Solihull Blaze in 1997, Eley has more recently contributed to Solihull Barons’ top four finish in the Moralee Conference, an achievement which saw the side encounter NIHL North Champions, Blackburn Hawks in the 2016 Playoff Final.

“After more than 30 years playing ice hockey, deciding to call it a day has been particularly difficult. Throughout my career I have met so many friends, visited so many new places – at home and abroad – won trophies, taken on many battles and challenges and I have had the enormous honour and privilege of captaining my hometown club, Solihull Barons. Now nearly seven months since we first launched 19for19, we reached the grand finale, the Testimonial match. This was to be the final time I would pull on a Barons shirt and I’m honoured to have done so in the presence of so many current and former team mates, some of which are true legends of British Ice Hockey who have given up their time to help me go out in style, whilst raising money for charity.”

Eley has now hung up his skates for one last time to mark the end of both his playing career and a fantastic testimonial season, in which he has united his team, his town and his community as he hoped he would when undertaking this challenge at the start of the season.

The image at the top of this article is courtesy of the Heart of England Charity. Please visit their web page here for more information and to donate: http://www.heartofenglandcharity.org.uk/19for19/ 

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