Peter Vincenti has no obvious connection with a family of Leicester City supporters who lost their son to a rare form of muscle cancer in 2010.Peter Vincenti has no obvious connection with a family of Leicester City supporters who lost their son to a rare form of muscle cancer in 2010.
Yet nothing perhaps illustrates the caring side of the first recipient of the Sky Bet Football League’s Unsung Hero of the Month Award better than that he would offer his time, compassion and generosity to people he has never met.
The Rochdale midfielder was playing for Aldershot when a request was passed to him for a signed shirt and ball. It came from Julie and Neil Bradford whose son Ben Edkins was just 25 when he succumbed to rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive form of muscle cancer.
Vincenti obliged, sent off the items personally and set in motion a train of communication that led to him becoming a Patron of Edgar’s Gift, the charity set up in Ben’s memory which provides unique experiences or gifts to young adults aged 18-30 who are suffering from cancer.
“They do all sorts for young adults suffering from cancer. Special days out, luxury gifts such as an iPad or a PlayStation for those who are going through it,” says Vincenti.
“They raise money where they can. They did a cycle to all 92 Premier and Football League grounds in the country a couple of years ago.
“They are the ones who do so much. It wasn’t any bother for me to send them a signed shirt when I was at Aldershot, but then we got in touch with each other and it went from there.
“I sent them some more signed shirts, then a few Rochdale shirts when I moved here. And whenever we’ve played against bigger teams in pre-season or cup games I’ll always try and get opposition shirts. The kit man here, Jack Northover, gives me grief because I’m always asking him to get me signed shirts from the opposing kit man to send to them.”
Vincenti has also donated tickets to watch England at Wembley to be used as a gift for one young cancer sufferer. He helps out where and when he can, but it his willingness to being involved in the process that sets him apart.
It is the same with his work off the pitch at Rochdale and his connection with the ‘Dale fans. One particular social media story illustrates the point.
“I’ll always reply to fans on Twitter,” adds Vincenti. “Funnily enough, the first time I ever got abuse on Twitter was from a Rochdale fan when I played against them here for Aldershot.
“He was giving me the traditional abuse I get about my height and my build, something about me being ‘lanky.’ We had a long coach trip back down south from the game, so I replied to him. We had a laugh, ended up getting into a Twitter conversation and he started following me after that. When I signed for Rochdale he was one of the first ones to tweet me.”
The 29-year-old goalscoring midfielder recently signed a new three-year contract extension with Rochdale, further testimony to the impact he has at Spotland and in the local community.
Rochdale Chief Executive Colin Garlick is adamant that Vincenti makes a difference. He says: “Peter takes his responsibilities as the club’s PFA representative seriously. We regularly send the players out to the schools through our Football In The Community programme. Peter acts as the liaison, sets up the rota and makes sure those things are done.
“He’s easy to work with. I can use him as a sounding board for anything to do with the players. He’s got that character. He’s intelligent, reasonable, an open-minded lad. And if he says he’s going to do something he does it.
“His charity work is typical of his character. He’s quite giving to others and he makes time for people.
“He’s hugely popular with the fans because he makes time for them. You can get closer to the players in the lower leagues but equally some players will rush to get on the coach or flick a few autographs. Peter’s never like that. He makes himself available to the supporters. After games he spends time at the club with his family speaking to supporters.
“The good that players do in the community reflects very positively on the club and we are happy and very proud to be associated with that when a player receives an award such as this.”
Vincenti was a late entrant into the professional game. Having completed a degree in Business Management at Liverpool University, he was 21 and back in his native Jersey playing for local side St Peter when a family friend secured him a trial at Millwall through a contact.
A brief spell in south London and two seasons spent largely in the reserves at Stevenage were followed by the move to Aldershot for the Celtic fan.
“Coming from the Channel Islands you’ve got no affiliation to any club, so you tend to support whoever your parents support. My dad’s from Glasgow and a Celtic fan.
“There are a lot of Scottish people in Jersey from back in the day. I came home from school one day and said to my mum I wanted a blue bag because all of the other kids had a blue bag. My dad said to her: ‘Go and get him this blue bag that he’s after.’ So we went into town and came back with it, not realising it was a Rangers bag.
“My dad would never tell me who I had to support but the one team I couldn’t was Rangers. So he told my mum to take the bag back and he took me up to Parkhead to watch a Celtic game against Inverness Caledonian Thistle. I must have been seven or eight and that was me sold on them.
“The Edgar’s Gift people are all Leicester City fans, but they’ve adopted Rochdale as their second team now.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with fans, but maybe more so here at Rochdale because they have a bar where, when my family and friends come, they can go and have a drink after a game. There are fans that I interact with, speak to and know now from speaking to them after games.
“Getting this award kind of contradicts itself if you are trying to be unsung. I know there are a lot of footballers who do a lot outside their clubs and not just because they are asked to. They do it voluntarily and don’t want anything for it.
“Footballers are in the spotlight a lot, maybe not League One footballers so much, and more often than not it’s for bad reasons.
“As footballers you do have a lot of downtime. I know we don’t work in a nine to five job but the truth is that as a professional sportsman your downtime involves a lot of rest and a lot of recovery from games so it is very inward-looking.
“It did take the charity to get in touch with me and ask for something like a shirt or a ball – but from there it just progressed and I was only too happy when Ben asked me to become a Patron. I find it fairly easy with them. It’s brilliant what they do and they are the ones who do so much. I just like to help who I can where I can.”