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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 01:07 GMT
Celebrity Health - Gary Mabbutt
Gary Mabbutt getting his MBE
Mabbutt became an 'icon' for diabetics
In a series on celebrities and their health, the BBC News website talks to former England footballer Gary Mabbutt about his Type 1 diabetes.

Gary, aged 44, began his professional career with Bristol Rovers and soon became one of the best known defenders in English football, joining Tottenham in 1982.

He appeared more than 600 times for the London club and was on their UEFA and FA cup winning teams. He also won 16 England caps, before retiring from the game at the age of 37.

Gary, who was given an MBE for services to the game, talks about his illness to promote the work of the charity Diabetes UK.

HOW DID YOU FIRST REALISE SOMETHING WAS WRONG?

I was already a professional footballer for Bristol Rovers when I became ill.

I said 'I can be the first diabetic to play for England', which when you consider I was playing for Bristol Rovers at the time, that was ambitious.
Gary Mabbutt

It was 1978, around Christmas time. I found I had a raging thirst and I could not stop drinking.

I was lethargic and very tired.

They are the classic symptoms of diabetes, but I had no idea.

HOW DID YOU GET DIAGNOSED?

I was playing in a game against Leicester and we lost 3-0. I had my worst game.

In training I used to be very fit, but I started running about half a pitch behind the other players so I was sent to see the club doctor. He diagnosed me in five minutes.

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO THE DIAGNOSIS?

Initially it was shock. I was only 17 years old when I was diagnosed. My main concern was about my career.

I knew nothing about diabetes.

My father looked up the top four specialists in the country and asked them whether I could still play professional football with diabetes.

The first three said it would be very difficult to continue in football, so my father went to the fourth specialist and he said 'if you really want to do it then give it a try'.

I can remember my father explaining to me that I was still going to be able to play football and I said 'I can be the first diabetic to play for England'.

When you consider I was playing for Bristol Rovers at the time, that was ambitious!

And, luckily for me, it came to fruition.

WHAT WAS YOUR TREATMENT?

I was taken into hospital where they put me on some insulin, and I was there about two to four days.

People then were very ignorant about diabetes. As an example my brother came into hospital to see me and brought me some football magazines and a box of sweets.

They told me I was going to have to learn to inject my insulin and gave me an orange to practise on. They also said I was going to have to learn about diet.

HOW DID YOU FEEL DURING TREATMENT?

Within two to three days of being on insulin I was feeling wonderful again.

My diet had to be worked out for matches and for training and it was very much trial and error at the start.

But within four to five weeks I was back in Bristol Rovers first team.

There was a lot of media interest in the fact that I was diabetic and if I had a hypo [hypoglycaemic coma] at a football match they would have had a field day - I never did.

For the first six months I was 'Gary Mabbutt, diabetic footballer', but then I became 'Gary Mabbutt, footballer'.

Gary Mabbutt
He had to schedule injections round matches

I had to test myself regularly, but I was always having to change the times of my meals and insulin to fit in with matches, which was not ideal.

I would test myself five minutes before kick-off to see what my blood sugar levels were like and whether I needed insulin or a sports drink, at half time and after the match.

I did have a few hypos during training and the first time it happened there was a bit of a panic among the players, but after that I always kept some glucose drinks on the touchline.

I have had hypos, gone to bed and woken up the next day in hospital.

One day, before a cup game, I tested myself, gave myself some insulin and went to sleep.

When I didn't turn up for the game somebody was sent to find me. They had to take me to hospital.

It turned out that my testing machine, which I just used to throw into my kit bag, was giving wrong readings.

HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW?

I still use needles and insulin. I did try a pen once. I was playing away at Manchester and when I went to inject myself the pen jammed and I had to take a taxi up to Manchester Royal Infirmary to get some more insulin and needles.

So after that I have always said 'If it is not broken, why fix it?'.

I am also still on animal insulin. I did try human insulin, but I ended up in hospital so I have stuck to the animal.

I am still on four injections a day and blood tests.

I have become a sort of Marjorie Proops of the diabetic world and I used to get kids and their parents writing to me with their problems.

WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE TO OTHER PEOPLE WITH THE SAME CONDITION?

The message has always been that no matter what you want to do in life diabetes will not stop you. Do not live your life round diabetes; let it live round you.


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