Tuesday 07 March 2023, 08:00

Football Unites The World: The story of Thijs Slegers

  • Thijs Slegers, press officer of Dutch club PSV, was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in 2020

  • In February 2023, he announced that his illness was incurable and urged people to become stem cell and blood donors

  • The Dutch football community rallied around Slegers, making the PSV motto, “Unity makes power”, a reality in the country

Thijs Slegers is a Dutch journalist who went from a successful career as a football writer at Voetbal International magazine to become in 2015 the press officer of one of the biggest clubs in the Netherlands: PSV Eindhoven.

At the end of 2020, Slegers was diagnosed with acute leukaemia and had to adapt his duties at the club to undergo treatment. However, after just over two years, on 2 February 2023, Slegers announced in a public statement that his disease was incurable: "After a previous successful stem cell transplant, the after-effects will finally prove fatal for me. The doctors can do nothing more for me," he said on social media, with the support of PSV.  

Despite sharing such sad news with the world, Thijs Slegers did not lose his sense of humour, asking for recommendations of TV series to watch. Nor did he lose his ability to think of others. Far from turning the spotlight on himself in such a situation, the PSV press officer made a very special request at the end of his announcement: "If you really want to make us happy: register as a stem cell donor via Matchis and/or as a blood donor via Sanquin. I can't receive any more help, but others can!"

The reaction of clubs, journalists, fans and the entire Dutch football world was one of total support and solidarity with Slegers, but he never imagined what would happen with his goodwill appeal. The next morning, the country's most popular newspaper, Algemeen Dagblad, reported that the Matchis Foundation, which administers stem cell donations in the Netherlands, had already received around 400 new donors thanks to Slegers' appeal. A week later, registrations went up to 5,000. 

In the meantime, something much bigger started to take shape: PSV's sponsors decided to give up all their advertising space in the stadium during the match between PSV and Groningen in Eindhoven to deliver messages of support and help reinforce the appeal for new donors. In addition, as Feyenoord fans had done the previous week at De Kuip when playing against PSV, the match stopped in the 12th minute to pay tribute to Slegers with applause, cellphone lights and banners.  

The club also decided to organise on Monday 13 February, together with ESPN, a live special programme called "Bloedverwanten voor Thijs" ('Blood relatives' for Thijs) to raise awareness about leukaemia, the shortage of blood and stem cell donors in the country and to invite people to continue donating. The special featured Slegers as the central guest as well as medical experts, and some of his colleagues and friends, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who told the story of how he and the journalist formed their friendship when he came to play for Ajax as a youngster.    

During the broadcast, PSV also set up a mobile unit outside their stadium so that fans could take a test to identify their blood type, which is the first step to finding out if someone can donate blood or stem cells. 

As a result of the whole campaign, Thijs Slegers announced on his Twitter account on 15 February, that Matchis had managed to recruit 7,769 new stem cell donors and Sanquin, the NGO in charge of blood supply in the Netherlands, 3,012 new blood donors.


"I am very happy about this. Thank you all. And for those who still have doubts: there are never enough donors," Slegers tweeted, calling again for new blood and stem cell donations. 

During the programme, the journalist expressed emotionally his gratitude: "It's very special that people come together to do something like this. I think it's a wonderful example of the power of football," said Slegers. "It's miraculous that something like this comes about. In football, rivalry reigns supreme. But we stick together when things go against us in this industry. This is a good example of that. It's very emotional, but it's also beautiful."

Of course, we join all the expressions of support and sympathy for Thijs Slegers, his family and all his loved ones.

If you live in the Netherlands, please consider becoming a stem cell or blood donor. You can register at Matchis (stem cells) or Sanquin (blood), and help making Thijs happy.

We are living in uncertain times filled with conflicts and global crises. The world is divided.

The power of football brings people together to cross borders, unite and celebrate together. Football Unites the World is a global movement to inspire, unite and develop through football.