“Sean went to a match in April and he never came home, that’s the reality of it.”
This is the stark truth Martina Cox is facing, after her husband Sean Cox was attacked before Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final against Roma in April, outside Anfield.
She says the attack lasted just 17 seconds. But that 17 seconds will have a lifetime effect on her 53-year-old husband, who now cannot talk, walk or sit up unaided.
Described as an “absolutely huge supporter” by his wife, Mr Cox had made a last-minute decision to travel to the match from his home in Dunboyne, Co Meath, Ireland with his brother Martin.
“He’s been supporting Liverpool all his life,” Mrs Cox said. “Sean regularly went to matches with either his brother or family, it was a very natural thing for him to do.
“It was a really familiar place for him. He would have felt quite safe there as well.”
The father-of-three was assaulted by a Roma fan outside a pub metres from the stadium and less than an hour before kick-off.
According to Mrs Cox, her husband was struck at the back and side of the head and then he fell, receiving a third knock to the head on the ground, in what she calls a “life-changing, horrific fall”.
Nobody has been convicted of the attack.
Roma fan Daniele Sciusco, 29, was jailed for violent disorder in August for his part in trouble outside the ground.
Last month Filippo Lombardi, 21, was cleared of assaulting Mr Cox – though he was jailed after admitting violent disorder.
And another Roma fan appeared in court in Rome last month on suspicion of assault and has been remanded before an extradition hearing.
‘I got a phone call… I was in shock’
Recalling the moment she found out her husband had been injured, Mrs Cox said: “I got a phone call from my sister-in-law and she said Sean had a hit to the head and he was on his way to the Aintree Hospital.
“I got a call from a nurse and she explained that Sean had had a bleed on the brain and severe bruising and needed emergency surgery.
“I was just in absolute shock, I didn’t really take it in and I didn’t look on social media.”
She was then told the first 24 hours would be crucial to his survival.
When Mrs Cox first saw her husband a few hours after the “senseless” incident, he was out of surgery and on a ventilator, heavily sedated.
“It was horrific looking at him, absolutely horrific. Your husband, just lying there lifeless. Awful really.”
The long, slow recovery
Mr Cox spent the next four and a half weeks at the Walton Centre in Liverpool, a specialist neurological unit for brain injuries, before being airlifted to another specialist unit at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital.
“He was fully sedated for two weeks immediately after the attack, then it took nearly another four weeks for him to actually come around. It wasn’t actually until we got to Beaumont that he had opened his eyes, but he wasn’t fully conscious as such,” his wife said.
The Gaelic football fan was a keen golfer and runner before his brain injury, and was due to run the Dublin marathon in October.
He is now in a rehabilitation centre in Dun Laoghaire – a 40-minute drive from the family home – where he has been cared for for the past seven weeks.
The sales director has only recently become able to eat small portions of soft foods.
“Sean’s started to drink as well but it’s all very slow and measured because they’re all very small, tiny little steps but it’s good progress,” Mrs Cox said.
“There are more words coming since he started to eat – that does help – but it’s a very long, slow process and long journey for Sean.
“They say you don’t get back the same person and we know that.”
The lifelong Reds fan also recognises family members and Mrs Cox says it is “encouraging” to see her husband improving.
“It is difficult, there are good days and bad days, but it’s all about trying to get Sean to the best place and that’s where I’m at,” she said.
‘The children miss their dad’
The impact on the family has been “difficult” for the couple’s three children – Jack, 21, Shauna, 20, and Emma, 17 – and Mrs Cox says everyday life has “completely changed”.
“I miss Sean, our children miss their dad,” she said. “We’re trying to muddle through it and do the best we can. Sean would want us to get on with our lives and we’re trying as best we can.
“I have two kids in college and my youngest daughter is doing her leaving certificate this year so we have to get on with certain things, but it’s difficult.”
When asked if getting on with their lives might mean the children watching matches at Anfield, she answered: “Absolutely, yes. What happened shouldn’t have happened in the first place but people have to live their lives.”
What does the future hold?
The Cox family are facing the reality that Sean’s recovery will need years of specialist treatment which could cost millions of pounds.
The family have received substantial donations from AS Roma, Liverpool, Everton’s Seamus Coleman and Reds manager Jurgen Klopp, both of whom gave 5,000 euros (£4,400).
Football fans have been donating to a Go Fund Me page as part of the fundraising efforts, which recently hit £400,000, but government funding for care in the rehab centre is set to end in the coming weeks.
“The fans have been absolutely amazing and the club has promised to support Sean,” Mrs Cox said.
“Roma don’t have any connection to Sean but they really have stepped up to the plate in terms of what they have given for the donation and they have also agreed to work with us in terms of fundraising activities going forward.”
Roma have donated an initial amount of 150,000 euros (£130,000) to help with her husband’s medical and rehab costs, of which 50,000 euros was a personal donation from club president Jim Pallotta.
When asked if she would like to see something similar from Liverpool, Mrs Cox said: “You would hope so, yes… let’s just wait and see, that’s all I can say at this point.
“There was a bucket collection at the Cardiff match and half the funds raised were matched by the Liverpool Foundation so that was about £29,000 which is really good and we’re very grateful for that. Liverpool have also agreed to help with some fundraising in terms of community activity going forward so that’s where we’re at.”
Liverpool said they were working on “a number of initiatives” to support the Cox family.
Mrs Cox has hailed the “fantastic” medical staff caring for her husband and revealed she is looking at other treatment options in the UK, Europe or America.
“Obviously we want the best for Sean because I think he deserves it, this shouldn’t have happened and we’ve done everything we can in terms of fundraising,” she said.
“People just have rallied around, they’ve done so much, it’s been heart-warming.”
Before his injuries, Mr Cox would set himself a goal “and stick to it”.
And that determination is what his wife believes will get him through his recuperation.
“He’s very determined in everything that he does, ” Mrs Cox said.
“Obviously the goal is to get him home, that’s what we all want, all his family want, and he belongs here with us.”