BY RACHEL STEINBERG
A young Crystal Palace fan living with incurable cancer fulfilled a dream of training with his football heroes and serving as a mascot.
Ethan Holliman, 14, has an extremely rare genetic disease which leads to thyroid cancer unless detected in infancy, called MEN2B.
Doctors diagnosed Ethan at the age of 12, by which time the boy and his family were told it was too late for preventative thyroid-removal
Palace invited Ethan to watch the team train and accompany a player of his choice on to the pitch after hearing his story.
Ethan elected to walk with captain Luka Milivojevic who scored in the 2-0 victory over Norwich in September.
It was the day before the long-time Palace supporter turned 14.
Ethan said: “It was amazing seeing all the fans around me clapping and cheering.
“It was so much more than I expected it to be. It was so crazy and awesome.
“I still think about that day. It’s always going to be a really amazing memory.”
The club invited Ethan’s whole family, including Croydon-raised dad Carl, and grandad Derek, to witness the special moment.
Ethan’s mum Jane Holliman was thrilled to see her son take the field at Selhurst Park.
Mrs Holliman said: “I was so proud to watch him. He’s been through so much and it was such a lovely thing to do for him.”
Ethan said he loved meeting and taking photos with the players in their dressing room.
Palace manager Roy Hodgson recognised the Year 9 student from a few weeks earlier when Ethan joined the team for a practice in Beckenham.
Ethan was shocked to see his favourite players Wilfred Zaha and Andros Townsend at training because he assumed they were playing internationally.
He watched the team run drills for several hours before the players came off the pitch to shake his hand and sign his shirt.
Ethan said: “It was so, so unreal. Seeing all of them there, how they train and how good they are was so amazing.”
After practice, the football fan shared lunch with Hodgson and
assistant manager Ray Lewington, who both offered encouragement and support.
Ethan’s mum said Palace’s invitation could not have come at a better time.
“It lifted his spirits. I could see how happy he was,” she said.
Mrs Holliman heard about a new drug but was told Ethan was ineligible for the trial as he was under 18.
Ethan’s parents and medical team campaigned tirelessly for months to get him access to the experimental medicine.
Their hard work finally paid off and Ethan started treatment this week.
The football fan’s journey features in a documentary short currently competing for a Charity Film Award.
Ethan hopes the film will save lives.
He said: “I want to spread awareness so other children can get early diagnoses and live longer and healthier.”
The teen also inspired a group of friends to raise £3,000 for a local cancer charity by shaving their heads.
Active Ethan loves playing sport and video games, trampolining, building Lego, and is learning to play piano.
And, of course, watching Palace whenever he can.
Despite his illness, Ethan remains optimistic about his future – and his favourite football club.
“I think Palace will stay in the top half this year,” he said. “Like they should.”