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Disabled footballer's stolen bike to be replaced - with a little help from Ipswich Town keeper Bart

PUBLISHED: 12:04 22 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:34 22 February 2019

James Darke's bike was stolen while he was at a football tournament. Picture: JAMES DARKE

James Darke's bike was stolen while he was at a football tournament. Picture: JAMES DARKE

When this happy-go-lucky disabled man's treasured bicycle was cruelly stolen, it soured what was supposed to be a day of celebration.

James Darke's bike was stolen while he was at a football tournament. Picture: JAMES DARKEJames Darke's bike was stolen while he was at a football tournament. Picture: JAMES DARKE

But determined not to let a petty thief defeat them, the community - with a little help from Ipswich Town goalkeeper Bartosz Białkowski - rallied round to help and raised money to buy the victim an even better bike than before.

James Darke, who has learning difficulties, had cycled from his Ipswich home to take part in the football tournament at the Goals Ipswich five-a-side pitches near Suffolk New College on Saturday, February 9.

He and others had an enjoyable time at the event, where his team won.

But his smile soon turned to despair when he noticed his bike had been stolen - meaning he had to walk home in the rain.

James Darke's bike was stolen while he was at a football tournament. Picture: JAMES DARKEJames Darke's bike was stolen while he was at a football tournament. Picture: JAMES DARKE

Even though there are CCTV cameras in the area, they did not pick up the culprits - leaving James without the beloved bicycle that gives him his independence.

“It put a negative mark on the day,” said Lee Smith, disability liaison officer at Ipswich Town Football Club, who organised the tournament at Goals Ipswich.

“It was sad for that to happen to him.

“Everyone was disappointed for James. He is a happy-go-lucky person who lives a simple kind of life.

James Darke's bike was stolen while he was at a football tournament. Picture: JAMES DARKEJames Darke's bike was stolen while he was at a football tournament. Picture: JAMES DARKE

“His bike allowed him to access everything in his life and provided him with a level of independence. His independence was dented severely.

“I was not happy about what happened.”

On a JustGiving page he created later to share news of what happened and raise £200 for a new BMX bike, Lee wrote: “The day was bittersweet.

“The team won their division but his bike was gone, instantly diluting the joy of his team’s success and leaving James deflated, sad and disappointed that someone had gone to the lengths to take away his property and mode of transport home - which led to James having to walk home in the rain.

The community has rallied round to buy disabled James Darke a new bike after it was stolen. Picture: LEE SMITHThe community has rallied round to buy disabled James Darke a new bike after it was stolen. Picture: LEE SMITH

“No-one deserves this type of treatment - especially an innocent, vulnerable person who wants to live their life as simply as possible.”

The story struck a chord with many - and after Blues keeper Białkowski and BBC Radio Suffolk breakfast show presenter Mark Murphy shared the JustGiving page Lee created, dozens donated to the cause.

The £200 needed to replace the bike was quickly raised and Halfords also offered to give a 25% discount off James’ new bike once the crowdfunding page expires on Monday, February 25.

“There was massive goodwill and generosity,” said Lee.

The community has rallied round to buy disabled James Darke a new bike after it was stolen. Picture: LEE SMITHThe community has rallied round to buy disabled James Darke a new bike after it was stolen. Picture: LEE SMITH

“Especially in the current climate, it was a really nice series of events. It started off negatively and finished on a real high.

“James was beside himself. He was very grateful and a bit emotional.”

Donations on the JustGiving page are open until Monday and the more that is raised, the better bike James will be able to buy.

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