“We had this match circled on the calendar since the day the schedule dropped.”
Rick Thompson lives in Charlotte, N.C. and had been counting down the days until the Aug. 6 matchup between the Queen City’s new expansion team and the visiting Chicago Fire. While Rick has shown loyalty so far this season to his local Charlotte team, the Aug. 6 game would be different - he was going for Xherdan Shaqiri.
Before 2018, Rick didn’t really follow soccer closely. His son, Brett Thompson, a die-hard Liverpool fan would encourage him to watch games with him. At the time, Rick enjoyed the quality time with his son, but didn’t necessarily feel any affinity towards the team or sport.
Then, during the 2018 World Cup, the father-son duo tuned in to one of Switzerland’s final group stage matches as Shaqiri scored a 90th minute game-winning goal to help lift his team to Round of 16 contention. Rick was immediately hooked on the Swiss midfielder, not only for his goal-scoring ability, but for his selflessness on and off the ball.
“He’s just so good at finding space and setting himself up for whatever ball he hits over the top,” Rick shared. “The strength of his kicks is amazing and there is no one better at corner kicks. I just love how selfless of a passer he is, always setting up his teammates for their opportunities to score.”
During that same summer, Shaq signed for Liverpool FC and that’s when Rick was finally bought into his son’s favorite club.
“My dad came with me to see Liverpool FC in Charlotte that month, and by the time opening week came around, he was all systems go,” Brett shared. “It was to the point where he’d be texting me during mid-week games about the team and Shaq.”
“I’d be working at the office and get a text from my dad just like, ‘THE MAN’,” Brett added. “I’d be confused until I saw on Twitter that Liverpool was playing, and Shaq subbed on or did something positive.”
Rick also started collecting Shaq merchandise, purchasing a Shaqiri Swiss t-shirt, poster, and a Shaqiri Liverpool jersey. He continued to support Shaq as he went on to Olympique Lyonnais in 2021 and then the Chicago Fire in 2022, providing Rick the opportunity to see his favorite player again in-person in his own town when the Fire would travel to face Charlotte later that summer.
“My sons & I made plans to go see the Chicago match together as soon as the schedule came out.” Rick shared. “We were so excited about seeing our favorite player in person.”
Then early in July, with just a month left until Shaq would be in his city, Rick received life changing news – he was diagnosed with cancer. He immediately began receiving treatment and was told by doctors he should not go out in crowded public places and therefore would not be able to attend the Aug. 6 match-up that had been circled for months.
Heartbroken, but determined to still watch Shaq play, Rick planned to tune into the game at home, while the rest of the family attended the match in person. However, his kids decided to surprise him that morning, coming home to watch with him and bringing an even bigger surprise, a signed Shaqiri Fire jersey.
Shaq also recorded a personal video for Rick, sharing his gratitude for this support throughout his career and well wishes for a strong recovery.
“I was totally surprised at the autographed jersey, pictures & video,” Rick shared following the surprise. “It truly really raised my spirits. It was heartbreaking to hear my oncologist tell us I shouldn’t attend the game, but it was such a surprise to see my kids roll into my house to watch the match with me.”
Rick and his family spent the rest of that afternoon all dressed in the various Shaq attire, watching the Swiss international notch two assists to help lead the Fire side to a 3-2 victory over Charlotte FC.
“And like all matches he plays in, my full attention was on Shaq,” Rick added. “My goodness he is the best passer I’ve ever seen. In all, it was a wonderful day. Words can’t express how much this meant to me.”