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Monday, May 23, 2016

Miracle Man Swailes

There's little doubt that Morbeth's Chris Swailes was man of the match at yesterday's FA Vase final.

No only did the 45 year old score but, according to the Daily Telegraph, he probably shouldn't have even been playing.

At the age of 45, Chris Swailes should not have been playing at Wembley for Morpeth Town in the FA Vase Final, let alone become the oldest player to score in a final at the new home of English football, but not because of how old he is.

It is normally the legs that go first, that sad realisation that you can no longer run as fast, move as well or recover as quickly.  For Swailes, though, it was something far more serious.

Despite the nail inserted into his heal, that holds the bone together, an injury that ended a professional career which had seen him play for Ipswich Town in the Premier League, as well as Bury, Rotherham, Oldham Athletic and Hamilton Academical, it was a failing heart that almost brought an end to far more than this grizzly defender’s playing days.

Swailes knew at the time he probably should not have played for Dunston UTS in the Northern League when, in February 2014, he had trouble breathing climbing the stairs to brush his teeth. With hindsight it was stupid, but also typical of a man who made his first team debut for Boston United in 1991.

“I knew something was wrong, very wrong,” said Swailes, hungover but invigorated after Morpeth’s shock win over Hereford Town on Sunday. “I shouldn’t have played when I couldn’t climb the stairs.
“I couldn’t catch my breath on the pitch and had to come off. Even after I came off, I couldn’t breathe and I felt dizzy. It was pretty scary.

“I went to hospital and they discovered I had atrial fibrillation. I was put on warfarin and beta blockers, and I had three cardioversions (controlled electric shocks to kick-start a regular heartbeat). In effect, they killed me three times because they had to start my heart again. In the end I had keyhole heart surgery. They put in two valves so I can breathe better.

“For the first time in my life, I really felt my age. In fact, I felt a hell of a lot older than I was. I’d never worried about my age before, I don’t now, but back then I was worrying about whether I was going to live or not.”

After three operations on his heart, doctors tentatively told him that he could return to light exercise. Swailes was also ordered to change his diet and lifestyle. It should have been the cue, aged 43, to wind down, or at least hang up his boots.

“The hardest thing was sitting around for six months doing nothing,” Swailes explained. “When I first returned to training I over did it and damaged one of the valves. They had to do a fourth operation to fix it. I wasn’t very popular with my family at that point.

“But we talked things through with the doctors and as long as I looked after myself off the pitch, they gave me the green light to carry on playing and I’m so glad I did.  

“I just love it, I always have done. The games, the training, the camaraderie in the dressing room, it’s not something I’ve been able to give up.

“For me, the heart thing, as traumatic as it was at the time, is all in the past. I think Sunday’s win was the perfect way to put all that behind me. I know how lucky I am to be here, let alone scoring in a final at Wembley. I would have preferred it if it was a 30 yard screamer, but I don’t score many and it was important to get the equaliser. I feel very fortunate.”

Swailes admits he had difficult conversations with his family about refusing to retire, particularly his wife Louise, who saw how fragile he was in hospital and lived through the pain and frustration of his recovery.

“Of course they were worried when said I wanted to carry on playing,” Swailes admits.”But behind every man there is a good woman, I couldn’t have done any of this without her.”

So what does the future hold? Swailes is coaching at Newcastle United’s Academy and Gateshead College, but you suspect that glorious moment at Wembley will not be the end of his playing career.

“Honestly, when people say to me their legs have gone, I don’t know what they mean,” he explained. “My legs feel the same now as they ever did. It’s the day after the final and I could go for a run.

“My legs have never been the problem. I can’t turn as quickly as I once did, but I don’t worry about that too much at this level.

“I’ll have a think about things over the summer, have a chat with my family, and we’ll decide with the chairman and manager at Morpeth whether I should carry on. I just want to enjoy this for the time being because it’s an amazing feeling.”