Millwall fan Roy Larner: People call me a hero; I don't look at it that way
LONDON -- As Roy Larner sits in the sunshine outside St Thomas' Hospital, a woman calls across to him to say "thank you." Less than half an hour later, recognition spreads across another passer-by's face before she goes to shake his hand.
Larner had trouble accepting her gesture of kindness properly because his slashed hands and arms were in plaster. He needed more than 50 stitches when he was attacked by knife-wielding terrorists who carried out the London Bridge attack on June 3 and killed eight people, injuring dozens more.
The homeless, unemployed and unarmed Millwall fan attracted headlines worldwide for standing up to his attackers in a Borough Market bar on that awful night. His neck, ear and torso have been left scarred for life, but the 47-year-old's now-famous reaction when facing mortal danger has broken down bitter sporting rivalries and persuaded strangers to donate to a crowdfunding page that has raised more than £50,000 after his friend Jayne Jacob set it up.
The claim in a British tabloid that he evoked the violent reputation of Millwall supporters during his act of defiance raised his profile a great deal, too.
"Someone said I shouted out 'f--- you, I'm Millwall', but I don't remember," Larner, who had surgery on his diaphragm and a collapsed lung, told ESPN FC. "It's the sort of thing I would say though.
"There were people running away towards the restaurant area. I turned around and three men had kicked their way in. One of them pulled a blade out; I should have run, but the adrenaline kicks in and it's just that instinct -- luckily I'm still here to tell the tale."
Larner, a Millwall fan since the 1980s who described himself as a "down to earth" guy who can "handle" himself but tries to avoid confrontation, had gone out on that fateful Saturday only to watch the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Juventus at a bar.
But he said he believes that by standing up to one of the three men, all of whom were later shot dead by police, he diverted attention away from other victims.
"I was slashed mainly: my earlobe was hanging off, slashed in the neck, head, the muscles in both arms and my hands were slashed, and there was a puncture wound in the stomach," he said.
"Those people wouldn't have stopped and apparently what I did saved people's lives. People have called me a hero, but I don't look at it that way."
Praise has come from far and wide and included tributes from supporters of Millwall's fiercest rivals West Ham and Crystal Palace. There have been offers of trips to other clubs, accommodation, holidays and jobs; one boy was even reported to have sold his Lego bricks to contribute to the crowdfunding appeal, according to Jacob.
Former two-weight world champion boxer Carl Frampton has signed a glove for the "hero," and there has been talk of everything from plastic surgery in America to a football coaching course and a season ticket at The Den waiting for him, if he wants it.
There has even been an online petition to try to get the former print worker honoured with the George Cross, which has gained more than 16,000 supporters. Never before has the Millwall fans' signature chant of "No one likes us" applied less to one of their kin.
"It's not just everyone at the club, but the whole country is respectful of what Roy did, and he deserves so much credit for putting his body on the line to protect people," Millwall manager Neil Harris said. "He reacted by facing adversity head-on."
For the father of one who was down on his luck, getting by with only one bag of clothes while sleeping on a friend's couch after moving out of his mum's house, it could represent a turning point in his life.
"People have stopped me asking for selfies; old women cuddling me, clapping and saying thank you," Larner said. "It's all new.
"The amount of support from fans of different clubs -- whip rounds and so on all over the country -- it's amazing. I really appreciate it. Millwall don't get that sort of friendliness usually and maybe it is bringing people together.
"I was sliding downhill and didn't know what my next move was before this. What happened was an awful thing, but some good things have come out of it."