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Crusaders boss Baxter tells personal hell behind title challenge

By Graham Luney

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter has revealed how his father George fought for his life during the club's title charge last season.

As Baxter guided the north Belfast side to a third Danske Bank Premiership title in four years, behind the scenes he suffered personal hell.

George (78), who is on kidney dialysis, underwent a triple heart bypass operation at the Royal Victoria Hospital. He returned home but collapsed before Christmas and needed urgent medical treatment.

While in the Ulster Hospital in January he contracted flu, sparking fresh fears for his health.

"My parents George and Anne sacrificed a lot to help me, and my dad, who never missed the matches since I was 11, is my biggest fan," Baxter said .

"He's doing rightly, but he still has a long way to go. His kidneys don't function and he is now on full blood dialysis, but it puts the heart under pressure. The heart wasn't going to survive, so a triple bypass was required and they've the problem of marrying them together. We've nearly lost him three times within a year.

"When you get a phone call to come to the hospital it's very tough. We played Ballymena United at Seaview the Friday night before Christmas and I left the game and went straight to hospital as my dad was in intensive care at the Ulster Hospital."

Baxter continued: "He got out of the Royal Victoria Hospital about six to eight weeks after his operation and the exciting talk was he'd be home for Christmas.

"He got out about a week-and-a-half before Christmas but after being at home for three days he collapsed and was rushed back. He looked like a skeleton. We were training on the Wednesday that week and I got a phone call from my mum saying the ambulance was there and could I come. He had to go to hospital and we had the game that Friday.

"I didn't think he would make it, but he got through.

"That Christmas was tough, with the football going on behind the scenes. It's been an incredibly tough year with dad, but the joy was my daughter Hannah having a baby boy, Harry."

Crusaders went on to win the league, finishing two points ahead of Coleraine.

In the extensive interview today, Baxter also discusses his Christian faith, how the club unites in times of grief, and why he has no time for vindictive criticism.

Full story: Footballers lives: I thought I was going to lose dad but he pulled through and I was proud and happy to win the title for my biggest fan, says Stephen Baxter

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