Ex-Ireland player Clive Clarke identifies with Christian Eriksen as a heart attack ended his career at 27
It seemed as if the entire world paused in shock to witness Denmark’s captain fighting for his life on a football pitch.
For one former Irish footballer, Clive Clarke, who lost his career and almost lost his life to a sudden cardiac arrest at a football match, the sight of Christian Eriksen and his grief-stricken team-mates and family in Copenhagen didn’t really bring back memories of his own episode, as the impact of his own heart attack is there every single day.
“I live with it on a daily basis, I have a monitor beside the bed, I have an internal defibrillator inside my chest. So when people ask me if the Eriksen incident brought back memories I have to say no, because it’s there for me every day,” says Wicklow native Clarke, whose promising career as a Premier League and international footballer ended when he suffered a heart attack at half-time in a game 14 years ago, when he was at Leicester City.
“When I saw it on Saturday night I thought it looked very similar to what I had. I felt really sorry and upset for Eriksen; thankfully he pulled through, straight away you could see it was a cardiac arrest where he’d collapsed and thankfully the reaction from everyone around him was brilliant. My only thought now would be hoping he pulls through.”
With a wife and a nine-month-old baby to support, Clarke’s playing career ended in an instant that day, at the age of 27, and he had to regroup, training as a solicitor for a spell and also moving back to Ireland briefly, before opting for a career as a players’ agent.
It was a desperately tough time, bringing challenges beyond the usual problems faced by footballers. “My wife got a phone call to say, Clive’s dead,” he says.
“My heart had stopped for four minutes, it wasn’t looking good when the manager left the changing room, I had four bouts of the defibrillator. I heard later they’d given me three and it wasn’t looking good, they got the heart going on the third one but only for a few seconds, the fourth one worked.
“But the information being relayed back, via friends and the medical staff, was that I wasn’t in a good place and I was possibly dead. Someone did tell my wife that I was gone, which was so difficult for her.
“Mine was very similar to Eriksen’s, except mine was in the changing room. I was told later that people were ushered out of the changing room to give the medical staff room to treat me. I wasn’t awake for all of the fuss that was going on then, the next thing I remembered was waking up in the back of an ambulance,” he says.
There are some differences between the incident that Clive Clarke endured, and survived, in 2007 and the near-disaster that befell Eriksen on Saturday night. Eriksen was playing in a big international game at a major finals, while Clarke’s episode happened during a English League Cup tie between his Leicester City side and Nottingham Forest.
Eriksen collapsed on the pitch, in full view of the attendance and the TV cameras, while Clarke’s collapse was – a small mercy – in the privacy of the dressing-room. The match involving Clarke was abandoned and replayed a month later, while Eriksen’s team-mates played on, a wrong call in Clarke’s view.
“Our game was called off right away. For all the praise on the staff and the Danish players on Saturday night, UEFA need to take a big look at themselves for playing the game, asking those players to go back out and play. They are Eriksen’s friends,” Clarke says.
“That game should have been rearranged for later in the tournament. I thought it was wrong that they were asked to play as there’s no way in the world that they were in the right frame of mind to play that game.”
Contracted to Sunderland where he was out of favour under manager Roy Keane, Clarke was only weeks into a loan spell at Leicester City but it had started well. On the day in question, late August 2007, there was only a hint that something was amiss.
“It was a hot summer’s day, early in the season so you are trying to get up your fitness, it was only my third game for Leicester. I was a bit lethargic but I didn’t think anything of it. I thought my lethargy was down to fitness and it being a hot day,” he says.
“I’d walked in at half time with my ex-team-mate from Stoke, Kris Commons, who was at Forest at the time, we just had a chat in the tunnel, I do remember saying to him, I can’t wait for this game to be over, I feel a bit tired.
“I walked in, grabbed a bottle of water and sat down. I know the manager was speaking to me but I couldn’t register what he was saying. And then I just collapsed, so my next memory is being in the ambulance. The lads and the staff just said later that it was a very, very scary environment for them.
“Dave Rennie was the Leicester physio, he played a major part in helping me survive. I only spoke to him the other day in the aftermath of the Eriksen case. He said he felt no pulse from me at all, the Danish team doctor said there was a pulse from Eriksen but then it went. I had no pulse, they got Eriksen back on the first defibrillator, they needed four for me. I’m just thankful I am here today, able to walk around and lead a good life.
“I have an internal defibrillator, called an ICD, I have a machine beside the bed, every time I wake up I check the machine that counts my heartbeats, that data is downloaded to the local hospital so I do live with this every day. Some days I wake up with a sore back or sore chest as I might have leaned on my machine in my sleep. It’s a daily reminder of what happened to me and a reminder of how my life changed but also how lucky I am to be here.”
Aware that he could not play again, Clarke, who had made his Ireland debut just three years earlier, needed to find a new path in life and he’s built up a successful business as a player agent.
“I had to go and earn a living. Christian Eriksen is one of the top players in Europe at a massive club and he won’t have to worry about that side of it, it would be devastating for him to lose his career. It’s not just about the money, you want to play, that’s in your DNA, if it does mean that he can’t play football again it will be devastating for him, but I’d imagine he is financially secure,” he says.
“Playing football will be the last thing on Eriksen’s mind now, he just needs to make a full recovery. I’m not a doctor, but if he has had the same thing as I had, I’d imagine the pathway back to professional football will be difficult.
“If his career does come to an end, he will realise he was lucky to play the game at the level he did and he has a whole life ahead of him, he has to try and take the positives out of this situation.”