Madeleine Cusack was a star in women’s football – hailed as Miss Sheffield United. Boasting an enviable, professional career, the star midfielder, who hailed from Derbyshire, went on to become vice-captain of Sheffield United.
It is easy for anyone to see why the athlete excelled exponentially in her career: according to her teammates and clubs, she possessed great talent, took any given opportunity to improve, and had unconditional love and support from her family.
But where did Maddy come from? At one point, she was simply a young girl from the small Derbyshire town of Shipley View, Ilkeston. She came from a tight-knit family, close to her parents, Deborah and David, grandmother, Judy, with unbreakable bonds with her siblings, Richard, Olivia and Felicia.
At Scargill Primary School in West Hallam, Maddy was a shining light with a special talent for sport. “She would spend all of her time playing football with the lads. Her school shoes had to be boy shoes, because they were the only ones that would last,” Deborah, 55, says. “Even then, she was very competitive. On sports day she won absolutely every race she ever entered. The school had a little marathon at the end of the year and she’d always win that as well.”
Maddy’s younger sister, Olivia, shared her mother’s sentiments about her competitive nature. “We learned very quickly to just let Maddy win, because she would win anyway,” she says, laughing.
Maddy also enjoyed horse riding and would often ride with her cousins. “When she was a child, her favourite film was Black Beauty and so her fifth birthday present was a horse riding lesson,” Deborah shares dotingly. “We also tried ballet as her grandmother wanted to take her, but that lasted about one week.”
This time of year is particularly hard for the Cusack family, as she loved Christmas. It was a time to spend with her family and take a break from the passions of the pitch. Deborah recalls, “She made an angel at school when she was little, and that goes on top of our tree every year. I’ve kept all the Christmas decorations from when all the children were five. The others used to get a bit cross when the angel went back up every year.”
Following Scargill Primary School, Maddy moved to Kirk Hallam Academy. Similarly to when she was a younger pupil, the football prodigy spent the ‘majority of her waking hours’ dedicating her time to sports.
“During secondary school, she was a part of the netball team. I went to watch every game she was ever in. On one occasion Maddy nearly went to kick the ball, and I had to shout ‘Don’t boot the ball!’ In netball, she was like a little Jack Russell because she wasn’t tall and lean, she was just on everybody like she was in football so it was funny to watch her play,” Deborah recalls, chuckling at the memory. “I’m very, very proud – I’m proud of everything she’s ever done,” Deborah says.
Popularity came easily to Maddy, who was respected by the boys and idolised by the girls. She had a large group of friends throughout her time as a student and was still close to them years later.
She and her boyfriend of the time were crowned prom queen and king in her final year of school. Her ‘prom queen’ sash still remains in her childhood bedroom. It was the first, but by no means the last time she would be celebrated for her popularity and excellence. On the day, there were group pictures of Maddy and her friends taken outside West Hallam Community Centre. The park in the centre is the starting location for the foundation fundraiser, Miles for Maddy, on December 10.
At school, she impressed many of her teachers with her talents and fierce personality. One in particular was Anne Cox, her PE teacher and Key Stage 4 Head of Year.
She worked closely with Maddy on and off the pitch and recalls, as an athlete, she was impressed with her dedication and determination to her interests. As a pupil, she was also in awe of her selflessness, confidence and optimism.
“As a PE student in year seven, she was part of a very talented group of girls,” the retired teacher says fondly. “However, Maddy always just stood out that little bit more. You shouldn’t have favourites in school as a teacher – never. Having said that, there was a group of girls in that year, along with Maddy that were just outstanding beyond belief.”
Branded a ‘cheeky monkey’ by her former teacher, Maddy would often lead the group into mischievous fun which always left a smile on everyone’s face.
“In the early years, the children would perform dances to each other, Anne says. “Maddy would try to break into fits of laughter with her dancing. We once performed a dance to West Side Story and she loved that because it was full of strong, confident movements.”
When the athletic powerhouse wasn’t dominating her way through sport, her focus moved to her studies. Maddy received all A*s, As and Bs in her GCSE subjects, including Psychology and PE, and retook maths three times to secure an A. After GCSEs, she then went on to study English, Biology and PE for her A Levels. It appeared as though she shone as much when reciting Shakespeare, as she did when dribbling on the pitch.
A standout memory for Anne was when the school football team made it to the national finals. “Maddy led the girl’s football team to the National Finals. We had never made the finals before, and this was the only team to have ever done it. She was an integral part of that team with regard to raising motivation and getting everybody to train. She was an absolute star.”
It was while Maddy was at secondary school, the Cusack family moved from Shipley View to Horsley and moved next door to Zoe Stannard, who went to school with Olivia. “I was in year four at the primary school in the village when Olivia started,” Zoe says. “We became best friends that same day. Liv introduced me to Maddy and from then on, we were either always at my house, or theirs. Because I was best friends with Olivia, I always saw Maddy as a big sister. I was an only child and so I felt as though Olivia, Maddy, Felicia and Richard were like my siblings. She was the first person who bought me makeup, the first person to straighten my hair – she was a big sister. We looked up to her so so much.”
During separate conversations, both Zoe and Olivia agreed that once somebody befriended one of the Cusacks, that person automatically became friends with the entire family. Living within a close bubble of family and friends, the entrance to the Cusack house was a revolving door.
Zoe was present for many milestones of Maddy’s life, such as getting her first job as a waitress at the Horsley Lodge Hotel. During Maddy’s exam period, Zoe remembered watching Maddy revise so intently, that it inspired her to mimic her friend’s work ethic when it was time to revise herself.
By this point, Maddy was playing for Aston Villa and would have to drive from Derbyshire to Birmingham three times a week for training sessions. As her father drove her back and forth along the A38, Maddy’s head was in her books, revising for her next exam. Her dedication to ‘being the best’ is something that inspired all those around her.
“She achieved everything she set out to do. She did everything first and set the benchmark for the rest of us: GSCEs, Sixth Form, and even her driving test – She was the first one out of all of us to pass driving,” Zoe, a deputy safeguarding lead, recalls.
Some of her favourite memories of her time with Maddy centre around simplicity: whether it be going for walks with their mums, or going for long drives with Maddy and Olivia. “As she got older, she loved being in her car – she loved listening to R&B, and would literally blast songs in her car as loud as she could.”
Like Deborah, Zoe also cherished the memory of seeing Maddy at her secondary school prom. “It is probably one of my favourite memories. I just remember thinking, she looked amazing. Everyone thought she looked the best.”