Players and staff at Barrow are supporting their club captain who has been forced to leave the game due to a genetic heart condition.
Lewis Hardcastle, who came through the ranks at Blackburn Rovers, was told he would never play football again after he was diagnosed with a serious cardiac condition.
At only 22, Lewis now faces the prospect of life outside of football: a transition which can be difficult for any retiring player.
His teammates and coaches at his current club, Barrow AFC, are raising money for the talented midfielder as he looks ahead to the future.
Fellow Barrow player, Brad Barry told LancsLive: “Lewis is such a happy guy but obviously, with something like this, he’s absolutely devastated.
“At 22 he’s only just coming into his career and I know he was going to be a real flyer, he’s a such a good footballer.
“He will do something to do with football, he will be involved in something to do with the game, I’m sure of that.
“I can’t really describe how he will be feeling because I’ve never been in that situation, it’s horrible news and how he will deal with it I don’t know.
“His career has just come to a sudden stop.”
Lewis joined Blackburn Rovers as a six-year-old and rose through the ranks at the East Lancashire side, captaining the under-23 side to a Premier League 2 title in 2018.
The midfielder then joined Port Vale on-loan before signing permanently for Barrow in 2019, impressing almost immediately by playing a key role in the side’s promotion to League Two in 2020.
Brad, who plays as a full-back for Barrow, heaped plaudits on his teammate, lauding his professionalism and dedication to the club.
He said: “It was heartbreaking to see something like that happen to a great friend, who is our club captain and also does so much on and off the pitch.
“We always looked up to him, he got on with everyone and he led by example. He wasn’t a loud captain, I just always watched him and saw a true professional.”
Lewis was the established club captain at the League Two side when they went away to Salford in February.
He had been feeling feint in the run-up to the game and later collapsed on the pitch before being substituted.
After operations and talks with medical experts, Lewis was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, a progressive heart condition which affects the blood-pumping abilities of the organ.
Lewis announced on March 24 that he could no longer player professional football.
“It was crazy and it was completely out of the blue,” said Brad.
“Lewis is such a hard-working person and he’s a top footballer, he’s one of the fittest in the whole group.
“It was mental really, we had no idea how everything was going with him or how bad things were until he told us.
“It’s made us all realise how quickly your career can be taken away from you. I just keep thinking; how can this happen to someone who is so fit and works so hard?”
As a League Two footballer, Lewis isn’t inundated with the riches seen in the top leagues of English football.
With this in mind; Lewis’ teammates have rallied round to support him financially.
Barry has started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Lewis, giving him the backing to find a new career.
“This is for coaching badges or anything he decides to do,” said the Barrow right-back. “I don’t want him to worry about getting money for the next part of his life.”
He continued: “As a footballer you sacrifice everything to make it, the game becomes your life.
£Even when you have a day off its all about the next game and coming back in the best shape possible to play on the weekend.”
Barrow are currently second-from-bottom in League Two, sitting inside the relegation zone.
With three games-in-hand, they have a solid chance of escaping the drop and Brad hopes that the team will pull together and finish the season strongly for Lewis.
He said: “If this can’t kick us on; nothing will. Losing a teammate like this is one of the worst things that can happen.
“Lewis still comes into the club every now and again, he gives us the lift we need. We need to take each game as it comes and do it for him.”
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