A “horrible experience” with coronavirus-like symptoms has inspired the former Aston Villa striker Gabby Agbonlahor to raise money for the NHS by raffling one of the most cherished souvenirs of his career. The 33-year-old, having already made a personal donation to the health service, is offering fans the chance to win the shirt he wore when scoring the winning goal against Birmingham in his last Second City derby this day three years ago.

“I’ve already made a donation [to the NHS] myself and I was trying to think of other ways I could help,” says Agbonlahor, who has invited visitors to his JustGiving page to pledge £10 per entry to the raffle that he will perform live online on Sunday. “The shirt means a lot to me and I thought it could be special for lots of Villa fans so hopefully we can raise a decent amount of money. I don’t know how much medical equipment costs but anything we can get to people who are suffering with this terrible virus has got to be useful.”

Agbonlahor suspects he contracted the virus a couple of months ago, saying he has only just recovered from “the worst thing I’ve been through”. He knows he is fortunate not to have suffered even worse and urges people to support the NHS, especially by obeying the lockdown.

“I had a lot of the symptoms,” he says. “People kept telling me to get tested but it wasn’t that easy. Tests weren’t available and, anyway, I didn’t want to go to hospital and pass it on. So, since I live on my own, I just stayed at home for basically as long as I could. The symptoms were quite severe, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

“It started off with severe migraines for days. And I was waking up at 3am and having to dry myself off with a towel, wiping off sweat as if I had just come out of a sauna. I had fatigue all over my body like you wouldn’t believe. Then the cough started, just a really annoying cough that you can’t get rid of. There was diarrhoea, sickness, everything. But I was lucky, my body finally fought it off after about 10 days. Then I stayed at home self-isolating for nearly four weeks. I’ve just about got my lungs back working properly now.

“The only good thing is I lost a bit of weight but it was a horrible experience. That’s why I hope everyone sticks to the rules. I know it’s hard to stay indoors but if people listen to me talking about my symptoms and those who have had it even worse, then hopefully they’ll realise that going out if you don’t need to is not worth the risk.”

Agbonlahor hopes his shirt will raise around £10,000. He explains he decided to hold a raffle rather than an auction because “people have far more important things to spend their money on at the moment than my shirt so I didn’t want the price to go too high. This way a lot of people who would like it will have a chance of winning it. I know how much scoring against Blues means to Villa fans.”



Gabby Agbonlahor (right) scores Aston Villa’s winner against Birmingham in April 2017. Photograph: David Davies/PA

No recent Villa player has scored against Birmingham as frequently as Agbonlahor, who struck five goals in 10 intense jousts with them. His final goal was especially sweet, since he scored it on his return after three months out with hamstring damage. He began the match on the bench.

“I was just watching the game and It was a bit of a dull affair, not many chances; it didn’t even feel like a derby,” he says. “It just needed someone to come in and smash someone. So when I got the nod just before the hour from Steve Bruce, the first thing I did was literally just shoulder-barge a player off the pitch. That got the tempo going and the atmosphere. I got booked a few minutes later for another foul but it was just down to the adrenaline I had in me. As a local lad, sometimes you have to take the initiative.”

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After a corner in the 68th minute the ball broke to him in the six-yard box, he swivelled and shot into the roof of the net. “I’d had a bad year so to come back from all that and get myself fit and get one more goal against Birmingham City was what dreams are made of,” he says. “The only bigger derby in the UK for rivalry is Rangers-Celtic. We’re next. And the adrenaline you get from scoring in it is just a crazy feeling that you can’t explain.

“Knowing how many people you’ve made happy, putting a smile on their faces so they can wind up their friends and colleagues who are Blues fans, it’s just a big, big thing. I’m really proud of that shirt and I hope it brings joy to whoever gets it. Over 400 have already entered so I’ve got a lot of names to write out before the draw on Sunday!”

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