SCOTT ALLAN feared he would be forced to retire from football after being diagnosed with a heart condition.
The Hibernian playmaker has spoken for the first time about the reasons behind his five-month absence from the first-team, revealing he was referred to a top cardiologist after enduring severe fatigue and dizzy spells at the start of this season.
His concerns came to a head against Aberdeen on August 30. Allan was withdrawn after 53 minutes but confesses that he was flushed and exhausted after just ten.
A rigorous array of tests followed — Allan is also a Type 1 diabetic, so that had to be discounted as the culprit — before a diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was delivered by Prof. Sanjay Sharma of the University Hospital Lewisham.
The condition, which sees the walls of the heart chamber become too thick, restricting blood flow in and out of the heart, took the lives of Marc-Vivien Foe, Ugo Ehiogu and almost killed Fabrice Muamba.
And while Allan is suffering from a more minor version, there was still a real concern that he would never kick a ball again.
“When I came back for pre-season, I did the usual hard sessions and felt okay,” Allan told Sky Sports. “But after three or four weeks, I started to feel fatigue. I was getting dizzy spells and and feeling faint.
“After 10 minutes of the match against Aberdeen in August I felt physically drained and remember getting substituted off and thinking: I need to get to the bottom of this.
“I went to Hampden to get a heart screening and they weren’t happy with the ECG. When that got passed back to Hibs’ doctor, he got in touch with Professor Sharma.
“When we did the exercise test — which is testing the heart under stress, which relates to me playing football — that showed up the cardiomyopathy and the professor wasn’t happy.”
Allan added: “He told me that if I managed certain things then there would be a possibility I could get through it — but there also might be a possibility that was it. You always think the worst, especially with something as scary as a heart condition.”
A frantic, and understandable, period of research followed. Allan, already accustomed to painstakingly looking after his own health as he manages his diabetes, had another condition to read up on.
“It’s like anything: when you type a condition into Google, it’s not usually the answer you want to see,” he smiled ruefully. “But I spoke to other people who had the same condition in professional sport and they were back playing and managing it. That gave me motivation and it was a challenge I wanted to face.”
A second opinion was received from a respected cardiologist in New York in November, three months after Allan received the news that left him contemplating his future.
It was far more positive and the U.S.-based expert liaised with Prof. Sharma to create a pathway for Allan’s return. Finally, light at the end of the tunnel after a period of real darkness.
“My son just kept asking: ‘why are you not playing today?’,” he said, recalling his time in limbo, while putting on a brave face for five-year-old Zac. I was dying to see him come and watch me play football.
“He loves football and it was an emotional time when he was asking: ‘Dad, are you not playing football any more?’
“I was going to my son’s training and you had guys who have read things or heard things and they sometimes forget you have a five-year-old next to you and ask what’s happening.”
The return to action which Allan had feared may never come finally occurred on January 23 at the grandest stage in Scottish football. Exactly 146 days after trudging from the Easter Road turf against Aberdeen, he entered the fray in Hibs’ 3-0 Betfred Cup semi-final defeat against St Johnstone.
The result was dreadful for the capital club, but football was afforded a sense of perspective in the aftermath.
“I felt quite emotional. It was a disappointing result but, in terms of what I had gone through, I was proud of myself,” continued Allan. “Even if it’d had been Lesser Hampden, I would have been happy!
“After the game, even though the boys had gone through such a big disappointment that day, all the boys came over and said: ‘So happy to see you back out there’. That’s why I was emotional.”
He has made one appearance since, against Rangers, and hopes to play a major part in Hibs’ push to secure third place in the Premiership this season, having been a regular among the substitutes of late.
Allan added: “I feel the best I’ve felt in my playing career in terms of the control of my diabetes, but also — having had this my whole career — now knowing what I need to do in order to not have any symptoms.”