BY CRAIG MUNCEY
Everyone loves a feel good story, someone who has overcome the obstacles put in front of them and still achieved their dreams.
This article looks at individuals who became professional footballers after being born with physical disadvantages; players who had one leg shorter than the other, such as Patrick Vieira, Darren Peacock, Paul Parker and David Kelly. Some differences were more extreme than others: following a childhood illness, the supposed difference in the length of Kelly’s legs was a few inches, yet he still had a very good career playing for big clubs such as West Ham United and Newcastle United and for the Republic of Ireland in major international tournaments.
The legendary Brazilian footballer Garrincha famously conquered his physical impediment (amongst various other significant hurdles) after a childhood operation. He had a left leg that was distorted and pointed inwards and a right foot that was six centimetres shorter and bent inwards. This hindrance did not stop Garrincha being one of the greatest wingers who ever laced up a pair of football boots, winning World Cup winners medals in 1958 and 1962. In Chile in 1962, with Pele injured, Garrincha took on the mantle as the leader of the group, and individually won player of the tournament and the golden boot for top scorer in the competition.
Martin Jorgensen, the ex Danish international footballer, allegedly wore different size boots on either foot, which were two sizes apart – a significant difference. But this certainly did not affect his dribbling skills which were of the highest order throughout his career.
In terms of more medically serious ailments that players overcame from birth, there is the well known story of ex-Scotland international Asa Hartford. On the eve of a big move to Leeds United in 1971, a hole in his heart was identified during his medical. Hartford, who went on to have a great career regardless,playing in two World Cup in 1978 and 1982, missed out on a move to Leeds, who at the time were a major player in both English and European football under Don Revie.
Loic Remy, the French international forward failed a medical at Liverpool due to a heart problem picked up in his examination. Remy, was even due to inherit the famous number seven shirt at the Merseyside club after the sale of Luis Suarez. The anomaly on the wall of the heart was picked up on a previous medical carried out on the player, when he moved from Nice to Marseille. However, Marseille – unlike Liverpool – were happy to proceed with the transfer, as were Chelsea, who hearing Liverpool’s reluctance, jumped in to capture the player’s services. Showing that some medicals can vary from club to club, medical staff and physicians clearly have differing views on what ailments are less serious than others.
Stefan Markolf is a current professional playing in Germany. Markolf, has ninety percent hearing loss and plays with special hearing aids. He is a central defender for KSV Baunatal in the fourth division of German football. Damir Desnica, a professional footballer in what would now be called Croatia, was born completely deaf. Desnica had a very good career in spite of this, the highlight being his sole cap for Yugoslavia in 1978 against Romania in a European Championship qualifier; he scored for his country in a 3-1 defeat.
Rodney Marsh was deaf in one ear following a collision with a goalpost, yet this did not stop the hugely gifted maverick having a great career for England, Queens Park Rangers and Manchester City amongst others. Cliff Bastin, who played for Arsenal and England, was also deaf in one ear, as was Jimmy Case, who won a stack of honours for Liverpool in the 1970s.
All of these players have demonstrated that you can reach the top in football, even if genetics, fate and fortune conspire against your biggest asset – your body.
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