The Hoofer | Peter Conchie

A nasty case of the Gascoignes
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The Independent Online

After umpteen seasons of football and countless hours of running, cycling, skiing and general jumping up and down, in my late twenties my knees decided that enough was enough. A couple of minor operations failed to do the trick, and eventually I had to go for the big one. An anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction.

These fibrous elastic bands are known in the trade as the Gascoigne ligaments – younger readers might know them as the Van Nistelrooys, both players having suffered the same rupture. A defective cruciate precludes twisting, turning and even stopping, and the operation to fix them entails replacing the ligament in the centre of the knee with a tendon purloined from another part of the leg (in my case, a spare piece of hamstring).

I don't remember much about it save shivering afterwards in a cold sweat and feeling nauseous. (Nothing worse, in other words, than most viewers' reaction when they first watched The Premiership.)

My first gingerly taken steps on crutches were uncomfortable. But by far the most unpleasant part of the procedure was sitting at home watching City Hospital, a daytime medical show filmed live in Southampton General. It aimed to provide as vivid an impression as possible of real pain and suffering, and in the episode I saw a young rugby player was undergoing the same operation.

In my rudimentary under-standing, to effect a cruciate ligament repair you have first got to dislocate the knee. This is best achieved by a decisive twist of the upper and lower leg in opposite directions, like wringing out a tea towel, before inserting the sliver of tendon and pinning it in place with a couple of titanium screws. This was not easy to watch.

At Oxygen FC there are three of us with the same inch-long hallmark scar. Russ battles on regardless, while Mike is taking life easier nowadays, having shuffled along to the veterans' league a few weeks ago.

At this point the plot thickens. Chatting to Mike one afternoon during a quiet passage in play we discussed our respective surgeons. I had always been chuffed that, after lining up patiently in an NHS queue that extended far out of the building, I had been taken apart and reassembled by the same surgeon who fixed up Paul Gascoigne.

Funny that, said Mike, the same guy performed my operation. Strangely, his chap was based in Harley Street. We compared notes and they appeared to be different consultants. Indeed, they came from different countries.

But it wasn't just Mike. Talking to a friend of a friend a few weeks later I was dismayed to find that he, too, had been operated on by Paul Gascoigne's consultant. Needless to say, this was a different man altogether.

Around the country there appear to be a rash of consultants – and that seems an appropriate collective noun – passing themselves off as healers of the faded hero. Of course, anaesthetic can leave a man peculiar, and I may have dreamt the whole thing. No matter. It's a good story, and I'm sticking to it.

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