Former footballer who beat cancer twice launches children’s clothing brand following heartbreaking baby loss

Former professional soccer player Joe Thompson has launched a children’s clothing brand after the devastating loss of his second child.

The ex-Rochdale footballer turned motivational speaker hopes to inspire the next generation of little hearts and minds with T-shirts with slogans that promote positive mental attitudes in young people while giving back to children in need.

The Younghearts collection is a labor of love for Joe with his business partner and NHS key worker Elly Holland, who were drawn together by their passion to encourage their own children to be who and what they want to be.

His eight-year-old daughter Thailula-Lily is one of the young models for the collection.

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Joe and Elly teamed up after Joe saw her T-shirts selling at a local makers’ market.

Joe with business partner NHS key employee Elly Holland (Image: Zak Chowdhury)

Earlier this year, Joe and his wife Chantelle tragically lost their baby boy in the lead up to the birth.

But Joe’s determined mindset after beating cancer not once but twice has set him on a path to inspire the next generation of little ones.

Joe said: “The next generation is leading the way at Younghearts. We want everyone to truly embody the messages on their T-shirts, because we truly believe that every child should embrace their individuality and let their mind shine brightly.

“The future is theirs and it starts today by empowering them.”

Joe and wife Chantelle with their daughter Thailula-Lily (Image: Joe Thompson Instagram)

Joe, 32, found himself unable to continue playing the sport he loved professionally, and retired from football in 2019.

The former United Academy youth player became a motivational speaker alongside a football pundit, appearing regularly on MUTV and BBC Radio Manchester.

In May, Joe made heartbreaking announcement on social media that their son’s heart had stopped beating before he was born.

He wrote on Twitter about the loss of their baby named Dre Phoenix: “#RipDrePhoenix We lost our baby boy on Wednesday night.

“His heart stopped beating the day before we gave birth to him.

“A scar over our hearts that will never heal. One day we will find peace in our pain and the strength to rise again.

“But now we must grieve.”

And on Instagram, he wrote: “RIP Dre Phoenix Perry Thompson.

“Tuesday the 11th, our little angel’s heart stopped beating.

“Wednesday 12 at 10:39 pm your mom found the strength to bring you into this world.

“It was the most beautiful birth for the most perfect little boy.

Joe’s eight-year-old daughter Thailula-Lily in a T-shirt from the collection (Image: Zak Chowdhury)

“A scar across my heart and a void that will never heal. I must find acceptance and peace in my pain. Because one day we will meet my little hero again.

“It seems like you were needed up here and I’ll never know why? But I know your soul wipes away the many tears I cry.

“Where do I start? Those fond memories we made together as a family are etched deep in my heart.

“The special moment when your sister Lula kissed you for the first time and said she will always miss you. It was just one of so many.

“It is our promise to you as a family that we will honor you and one day find the strength to stand up.

Joe fought back from cancer twice (Image: Manchester Evening News)

“We embody your name because the ghost of Dre Phoenix really never dies.

“I know you’re watching, smiling from above and all I ask of you is to keep filling our home with love.

Rest in peace our prince. #RIPDrePhoenix”

The midfielder first discovered tumors in his neck in 2013 when he played for Tranmere Rovers on the Wirral.

The football world gathered around him during his chemotherapy and he returned to the field to play for Bury, Carlisle, and returned to his youth club Rochdale.

Joe defeated nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014 after six months of chemotherapy.

But in March 2017, he confirmed that the cancer had returned after a tumor was found on his chest.

He stopped playing while undergoing more treatment and was told he was back in full remission after fighting back again with the support of his family, former Rochdale manager Keith Hill and his teammates.

Last year, during the first national lockdown, Joe paid tribute to the NHS heroes who saved his life.

Looking back on his time in the hospital, he told us, “They’re our unsung heroes. You could tell these guys were being driven off their feet.

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“It’s really nice to see the recognition they’re getting and I don’t want it to go away when this is all over.

“It goes without saying that they saved my life. One hundred percent they saved my life.

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He and Elly believe fostering a positive mental attitude is a fundamentally important part of life and their unisex t-shirts feature positive words and slogans, including “rebel” and “I’m going to start a revolution from my bed’, to encourage young people to be fearless.

A donation of £1 per item from youngheartscollection.com will go directly to food banks across the UK.

Elly added: “The pandemic has been such a strange and disturbing time that we wanted to create something to spread positivity and give back to our community.

“We didn’t just want to produce a slogan T-shirt, each of our designs has meaning as we, as a brand, strive to empower little hearts and minds to be who they want to be.”

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