My role


'I wish I'd had the internet when I was diagnosed with diabetes'

Gary Mabbutt, football legend and diabetic, launched Men’s Health Week 2011 at White Hart Lane. A star-struck Jim Pollard met him pitchside.

Gary Mabbutt is an ambassador for Tottenham Hotspur, the club he used to captain. He was an ambassador for the South African World Cup. He’d also make an excellent ambassador for men’s health online because when it comes to using the internet for health information Mabbsy totally gets it.

Jim Pollard tries and fails to be cool about interviewing Gary MabbuttHe’s recently been helping his father who is in his 70s to get online. ‘His demeanour has changed from worrying about something to going online, getting some guidance and then seeing his GP.’

Now aged 49 himself, the player who read the game as well as any of his generation has started wearing glasses. ‘I found out because I was sitting at home at my computer a few years ago and I was struggling to read it,’ Mabbutt says. ‘I went online and found a website with a sight test. I couldn’t read the third line. As I clicked the “no” button a load of bats flew across the screen. It told me to get my eyes tested. Proof of how the internet can help improve your health.’

'Could I even go on playing?'

Mabbutt is a legend to Spurs fans. He was captain for 11 years until his retirement in 1997 and led Spurs to their last FA Cup win in 1991. Only Steve Perryman has played more times for the club at the top level. Yet his illustrious career which also included 16 England caps and a headed goal against Yugoslavia may never have happened.

Gary Mabbutt with FA Cup, 1991As an apprentice at Bristol Rovers, aged 17, he was diagnosed with diabetes. He wishes the internet had been around then. ‘I had so many questions,’ he remembers. ‘Could I even go on playing? It was a slow learning process. There was little information available then but I looked on my computer last night and there are now 14,000 diabetes sites. When a doctor tells me about something I’ll look it up on the internet, new drugs related to my diabetes, for example.’

Recently he’s been on statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs. ‘They made me feel 30 years older. I looked up every statin available and I’m now on my fourth trying to find one that works for me.’ It was sitting at the internet gave him the information he needed to discuss this with his doctor. ‘Do that instead of following the bidding on eBay,’ he suggests.

Ironically, Mabbutt reckons that once it was under control, diabetes may have actually helped prolong his career. ‘The game has changed since I played and health and fitness is more important. That’s why Ryan Giggs is still playing at 37.’ But Mabbutt too was still playing at 37. In a less health-conscious era, he played for 20 years at the top level as insulin-dependent diabetic. ‘Having diabetes meant I had to be very disciplined,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t go out drinking with the chaps after the game. I needed my injections and a proper diet. Maybe that helped me to continue playing for so long.’

Gary Mabbutt in the Learning Zone'Men waste a lot of time on the internet'

So what do we do to help other men take similar care of themselves? ‘It’s abundantly clear from my friends that us chaps, if we get something wrong, we assume it will be sorted out. A bit of a pain? Oh, it’ll go away. But I know from having diabetes that it doesn’t work like that and that the earlier the diagnosis the more effectively the patient can be treated.

‘To encourage others, we need to raise awareness and that’s what National Men’s Health Week can do. We men are well known for our gadgets and technology and this is where I think this week’s theme is going to prove a huge winner.

‘Men waste a lot of time on the internet. Spending a little bit of it on looking after your own health would be a good idea. My message is that a lot of people out there are working very hard to find cures, the least we can do is take more responsibility for own health. If you go online, you can see that perhaps it’s more serious than you thought and see your GP. You’ve only one chance in this life so make most of it.

‘I’ve had friends with testicular cancer. This is the sort of thing men never talk about. It’s not easy to go to see your female GP about this. Looking it up on the internet can help you understand that your symptoms could be serious and that you’re not wasting the doctor’s time.’

Gary Mabbutt in the Learning Zone'We saw Paul Gascoigne at his best'

Our conversation takes place at the side of Spurs famous White Hart Lane pitch, sandwiched between a health online training session that Mabbutt took part in alongside 20 local men and the launch of Men’s Health Week in the club’s Bill Nicholson Suite at which he is speaking. To walk down the tunnel onto the pitch was a big thrill for me – and, after all he’s achieved, it still gets to Mabbutt too.

‘It always does when you come up the tunnel,’ he says. ‘One of the highlights of my 16 years at this club was being captain for 11. The captain is always the first out and you catch the roar of the crowd as you run out. It gives you an incredible adrenalin rush.'

Who was the best player he played with? ‘I played in Ossie Ardiles testimonial in which Diego Maradona played for Spurs so I’d say he was the best.’ Among Spurs players he lists Ardiles, Glenn Hoddle and Jurgen Klinsmann but settles on Paul Gascoigne. ‘If Gazza hadn’t been injured he could have been one of the very best. We were lucky. We had him at Spurs in 1990-91. We saw him at his best, his best season.’

Gazza was carried off in the 1991 FA Cup Final after damaging his knee with a very clumsy tackle. After it, every man in England knew what the cruciate ligament was. Gazza’s transfer to Lazio in Italy was delayed by a year and he was never quite the same player.

Gary Mabbutt launches Men's Health Week 2011‘A real gent'

'After the game, the chaps would go to the players lounge for a drink, I would go onto the team coach for my injection. At our first away after we signed him, Gazza got on the coach and saw me,’ Mabbutt recalls. ‘He asked what I was doing. I said I had diabetes. I didn’t try to explain what it was - I think at the time he thought that Sugar Diabetes was an American boxer – but I explained I needed four injections a day. “Just while you’re a footballer?” Gazza asked. “No, Paul,” I said. “Everyday until I die”. “Four injections a day? Every day until you die?” Gazza repeated – and then he looked at me with that Gazza grin. “Bet you can’t wait to die then.”’

It’s a funny story but it’s also a story that speaks volumes about men’s attitudes to their health and where they can lead. ‘Bobby Moore was my role model as a boy,’ Mabbutt says. ‘If there was someone I’d like to emulate it would be Bobby Moore. I was lucky enough to meet him a couple of times at Tottenham and I was like a schoolboy. I was so excited to meet him. He was real gent.’

I was exactly the same with Gary Mabbutt and he too was a real gent – even describing malehealth as ‘an incredible site’. What a player, what a role model, what an ambassador.

Page created on June 16th, 2011

Page updated on June 16th, 2011