JOE meets the Bayern Munich fan with a club-branded glass eye 3 years ago

JOE meets the Bayern Munich fan with a club-branded glass eye

"There's two things I don't mind talking about," Ryan Gibson says. "Ocular melanoma and Bayern Munich."

The Bayern superfan lost his eye to the rare form of cancer, which affects roughly five in every million people, but has found a very striking way to raise awareness of the condition: a glass eye adorned with the Bundesliga champions' badge.

When we catch up with the 33-year-old over Skype, he sheds some light on the club's response to his unusual request, and explains how he hopes to help other potential sufferers catch the cancer early on.

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Ryan hails from Charlotte, North Carolina - one of the larger Bayern Munich-supporting hubs in the United States due to its large German population - and he heads up a supporters group called the Queen City Bavarians.

Through that position he has been in contact with the club for fundraisers, no one at Bayern HQ was prepared for someone asking about a hand-painted, club-branded glass eye.

"I had it in my head throughout the surgery and the recovery time that 'hey, I've never really done it the way everybody else has done it', so the whole time in the back of my mind it was 'I'm getting a Bayern Munich eye'," Ryan explains.

"I started enquiring about the logo to use for my eye and [Bayern's] US office said they'd never had a request like that so they didn't really know what to do."

His Bayern hero is Paul Breitner ("he did it his way and his way worked pretty darn good, but he was controversial when he did it"), and one of his regrets is not having the eye in time for the former Germany international's visit to Charlotte, but he is pleased with how it has become a conversation starter to help him make more people familiar with ocular melanoma.


Dozens of people have asked Ryan about the prosthetic since he first revealed it last week, and he recognises that it allows him to almost become a mascot for ocular melanoma.

The stop-start nature of doctor's appointments and regular checkups have interfered with his day job, heading up a sports marketing company, but he always has time to answer people's questions when it comes to his eye.

"The first thing they ask is like 'what is that?' and I explain to them the Bayern Munich logo, the team and stuff like that. They'll say 'oh, is that the team playing in Charlotte in the summer?' and I'll be like 'yes' and they'll be like 'we might have to check them out'.

"Then instantly the next question is 'what happened' and that opens up the awareness, telling them about ocular melanoma, and I'll always throw in the thing at the end about 'make sure you get a dilated pupil exam every year'.

"That's the only way I knew I had it, I've had routine eye exams but never really had a dilated pupil exam, as soon as I did the dilated pupil exam, that's what they found.

Few people are aware of ocular melanoma, Ryan explains, and even fewer know the best way to go about testing for the cancer.

Indeed, he only received a diagnosis after going in for tests when a tumour had wrapped itself around his optic nerve and led to a detached retina, and he knows others won't necessarily find themselves in the same position.

Added to this, the extreme rarity of the cancer means funding is limited, and those who (like him) have no medical insurance will be forced to "wheel and deal" to afford the necessary treatment.


"We had to pay for the surgery, all the appointments, all the scans, the prosthetic, everything comes out of pocket and because it's a rare cancer that not many people deal with, the funds aren't like they are with a breast cancer where they have billions of dollars at their disposal," he says.

"Hopefully the awareness gets to the point that somebody sees it and wants to donate money, and then all of a sudden now we have funding for people who really can't afford (the costs), or to allow us to do a fundraising drive where we can get a couple of eye doctors to come in and do dilated pupil exams one day just to get people checked."

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Ryan regularly watches Bayern games at the Courtyard Hooligans sports bar in Charlotte, where fellow fans just talk to him about Bayern and don't really treat him any differently to how they would any other rival supporter - it's a different approach from his niece, though, who he says "thinks I've got a cartoon eye".

He's at Hooligans for pretty much every Bayern game, but that will change in June when he gets to see the club in person for the first time in his life as they travel to his hometown for a pre-season friendly against Internazionale.

"People are coming up to me left and right and saying 'Bayern should fly you to Munich' - I'd probably die if they offered but it ain't going to happen," he says.

"Thats the dream, to watch a game in the Allianz Arena. I've got a bucket list of places to watch games and that's the top one."

But he's got one other game on his list, and it's not too far from home. He's keen to see Rangers play in nearby Charleston over the summer, for one man in particular - Gers midfielder Dean Shiels.

"He's the only guy I know thats played with one eye his entire career," Ryan reveals.

"His contract runs out at the end of May and they come down at the end of June or July to play in Charleston against the USL Battery. I don't care if they sign him [back up] for a month!"

Incredibly, Ryan isn't the only football fan in the world with a club-branded glass eye.

Newcastle United fan Andrew Canavan was the first, and indeed it was by referencing his British counterpart that Ryan was able to get Bayern behind his plan in the first place.

But now that he's got his new eye and is helping spread the word about ocular melanoma, Ryan is in a confident mood.

"Now, it don't matter - I've got the coolest eyeball on the planet!" he laughs.

"If that dude from Newcastle wants to go eye for eye, I've got something for him!"