Belfast Telegraph

Glens ace Nacho plays Santa as he delivers toys to kids stuck in hospital

Two families with newborns who are determined to enjoy Christmas after tough times, and footballer lifting spirits on wards

By Sophie Inge

Football star Nacho Novo turned Father Christmas yesterday to bring festive cheer to sick children staying at the Royal Hospital in Belfast.

The Glentoran striker teamed up with his agent Bill Peden and Belfast-based charity SOS to buy around 300 presents for children staying at the unit over the Christmas period.

Originally the former Rangers player planned to hold a festive lunch for families from the east of the city at The Oval on Christmas Eve - until he discovered that some people were unable to leave their homes.

The Belfast Telegraph caught up with the Spaniard outside the ward where he'd just spent the morning delivering presents.

Nacho, whose real name is Ignacio Javier Gomez Novo, grinned and said the children to whom he'd delivered gifts had been "over the Moon". He added: "Since I came over here I've always liked to do things for kids.

"I remember during my time at Rangers we used to go to hospitals every single year just to see the kids.

"It's really heartbreaking to see them like this, especially at this time of year, but it's great to make them smile."

One of the lucky youngsters this year was Benjamin Wells (8), a Manchester United fan who plays for Banbridge Town Juniors.

He's in hospital for a spell after having surgery on his ankle.

"He was so excited when he found out Nacho Novo was coming because he's really into football," his mother Karen told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It's made his Christmas."

During the meeting the striker - who has a six-year-old son - not only gave Benjamin a remote-control car but also his phone number, along with a promise to meet up with him soon.

"He said when I get out of hospital he'll kick a ball around with me," revealed Benjamin. "Then afterwards he said we would go for a pizza."

The hospital's play services coordinator Jacklyn Jamison said the presents given to the children had been "fabulous".

"We obviously directed them with regards to choosing the gifts, because we've got children right up from birth to adolescence here," she said.

"So we needed a very wide range of things.

"Nacho Novo and his friends brought farm sets, train sets, make-up sets for teenage girls and a selection of baby toys - like teething rattles - as well as building blocks and board games.

"He spent a lot of time talking to the children and also left gifts at the clinics for children arriving there later on - plus he signed them so they know who's left them."

Although not every child was keen on sport, she said they all got excited when they found out a famous footballer was coming to pay a visit.

And the children weren't the only ones.

"The nurses in intensive care were past themselves!" added Jacklyn.

Tomorrow (Christmas Day) the children will also get a special visit from Santa Claus himself, and the canteen will lay on a special lunch for them and their families.

Nacho will be spending Christmas in Carrickfergus with his agent and his family as he prepares for a Big Two Boxing Day derby clash with Linfield.

"We're going to give him baby portions of turkey and ham because he has to beat Linfield on Boxing Day," his agent joked.

The player surprised the local football fraternity when he signed with Glentoran earlier this year.

He turned down an opportunity to play in the Indian Super League so that he could spend more time with his son Javier, who lives in Scotland.

But Nacho insists that he doesn't have any regrets.

"People have been really nice with me, and everyone tries to help all the time, so I'm really happy here," he said.

"I like the Giant's Causeway.

"I went over there for the first time recently, and it was amazing. I've never seen anything like that before."

Nacho was also full of praise for the Northern Ireland team, who made their first appearance at the European Championship this year in France, reaching the second round.

"I think they've done great," said Nacho.

"They have a good manager and a good group of players.

"They deserve all the credit, because it's not easy going to the Euros."

And he added: "And I think they have a good chance of the World Cup."

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