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Simon Viney, born three months premature on Dec 6 1987, probably didn’t strike the hospital staff as a future rugby player. He and his non-identical twin, Stephen, survived their birth, but Simon was soon diagnosed with DiGeorge syndrome, a rare condition that can cause learning difficulties, weak immune systems, and heart defects.
Simon spent his first two years in hospital. After being discharged, he often contracted illnesses that affected his breathing. Doctors at the Royal Brompton Hospital realised he had a heart problem and, at the age of three, Simon had a serious operation.
“They widened one of his arteries,” says his father, Guy, “went up through the veins into his heart and blew it open, which at that time was quite revolutionary stuff.”
In the years that followed, Simon attended the local special schools and he grew into an ebullient, boisterous and popular young man.
“He knew that he had his issues,” says Guy, “but he just had great friends and family that supported him. Nothing really got him down.”
Simon found it much easier to make friends than money. He couldn’t hold a job down, but whenever he had cash in his pocket he’d spend it on drinks for his friends. Once, he bought a fruit machine on a whim, enlisting Guy to help him take it home.
When Guy asked him what on earth he needed a fruit machine for, “he said: ‘Well, I’m going to get all my friends round, we’re going to fill it up, and when it’s full up I’ll take them all down the pub.'” Guy had got into rugby in his early 30s, and Simon, then in his late teens, delighted him by joining Barns Green RFC.
The West Sussex club had a second team that Simon played for enthusiastically, sometimes alongside his father. Guy, a short and brawny man known to his team-mates as “Popeye”, was a prop, and Simon played as a hooker, so they would line up together in the middle of a scrum.
“He was a bit timid to start,” Guy says fondly, “but when someone told him where to put his head in the tackle, he was all right then!” Guy chuckles. “I was always proud. I’m still proud now.”
Simon died at the age of 22, two weeks after his
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