Belgian soccer team

“You will never walk alone.” Those are the words a Belgium soccer team and its fans had for a 41-year-old terminally ill fan the day before he died at a euthanasia clinic. Club Brugge KV hosted Lorenzo Schoonbaert, his 7-year-old daughter and his wife for at a match on Sunday during which the team and more than 20, 000 fans celebrated Schoonbaert’s life, as well as offered him a heartfelt goodbye.

Schoonbaert, who died on Monday, had undergone 37 operations in the last two decades while fighting cancer, which he told Belgium’s earlier this year grew in his stomach after he had gastric bypass surgery. He said the device doctors used proved carcinogenic to his system. Schoonbaert opted last year to die via euthanasia, a practice that has been legal in Belgium since 2002, and had since prepared his wife and young daughter for his impending departure. He told that he even wrote out a decade’s worth of Christmas cards for them.

On Sunday, however, the match was less about sadness and more about celebration.

Fans welcomed Schoonbaert and his family onto the field, chanting “You will never walk alone” before the team allowed him to blow the opening referee whistle and kick the ball around for a few seconds.

In the locker room, players greeted Schoonbaert and thanked him for his support over the years.

While this story doesn’t have a happy ending in the traditional sense, it fared the best way it could in Schoonbaert’s eyes given his circumstances. After he died on Monday from a lethal injection, his family published his last words on Facebook. He thanked his family, friends and his favorite soccer team for all their love, ending his time on Earth with the club motto that greeted him with a standing ovation the day before: “YOU NEVER WALK ALONE!!!”

Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, a fast-breaking sports blog, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, aka “mostly the fun stuff.” She is also an avid WWE fan.

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