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Kone shrugs off haters to be the lifesaver again

Francis Kone pulling back opposing goalkeeper Martin Berkovec's tongue last month.
Francis Kone pulling back opposing goalkeeper Martin Berkovec's tongue last month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • A little more than a week on and Francis Kone can recall the incident vividly. It is the type of thing that is hard to forget.

On Feb 25 his Slovacko side were holding their hosts, Bohemians 1905, at the Dolicek stadium in Prague, the Czech top-flight football game goal-less as it edged beyond the half hour, when the striker chased a pass down the channel.

His pursuit was hopeless given the home side's captain, Daniel Krch, was tearing back and the goalkeeper, Martin Berkovec, was sprinting out to intercept. All had eyes only on the bouncing ball. Kone, 26, had actually been checking his own run when he heard the sickening thwack of heads.

The dreadful impact, "un choc violent", rang out over the drums and hubbub of the crowd. The two home players fell limply to the turf.

Kone, knocked to the ground, was on his knees when instinct took over. "I saw the defender was moving, so I was not worried about him," he said. "But the goalkeeper was still, lying on his back, and I could see the whites of his eyes. They were rolling in his head. He was either unconscious or worse.

IN THE NICK OF TIME

The clock was ticking... I eventually prised his teeth apart and pulled the tongue back. It was slippery with the saliva and at some point he actually bit me.

FRANCIS KONE, who has no formal medical training but put his experience to good use, this being the fourth time he has assisted.

"So I planted one foot across his chest to keep his left arm tightly in and tried to force my fingers into his mouth. The jaw was locked tight, but I had to make sure he had not swallowed his tongue.

"The clock was ticking... I eventually prised his teeth apart and pulled the tongue back.

"It was slippery with the saliva and at some point he actually bit me, but it doesn't matter.

"It was all over in a few seconds, and when the goalkeeper actually tried to say something I knew he was going to be fine. That's when I got up and walked away."

Some among the home crowd have since admitted to having spent the first 31 minutes poisonously marking Kone's every touch with cries of "monkey". All had applauded when Berkovec, after around 20 seconds, rolled himself on to his back.

Moving a player who has suffered serious head trauma can be unwise, even dangerous, not least given the possibility a neck injury has been sustained.

Yet, the Bohemians medic, Martin Vavra, praised Kone's swift intervention as critical.

"Without God, something bad could have happened that day," the player said. "Something terrible. He could have died, but I knew what to do. I'd seen it before."

He boasts no formal medical training but he does have experience. Aside from his remarkable transformation from a target of racist abuse to potential lifesaver, it is just as staggering to acknowledge that this incident was the fourth occasion over an eight-year professional career, spent at clubs in six countries, when he has prevented a team-mate or opponent swallowing his tongue.

Kone, who qualifies to play for Togo through his mother but was born in Bondoukou in the north of Ivory Coast and raised outside Abidjan, the economic capital of the country, has endured hardships aplenty in pursuing his football career.

He has always been desperate to follow his idol Didier Drogba to England but his first venture abroad came with an agent arranging a move to Thailand.

"The racism there was actually much worse. I was virtually the only black footballer in the league, so I stood out even more."

He and his young family have settled at Slovacko, but the same depressing problems have pursued him throughout.

"What can we do about it? I don't know, but maybe what happened (at the Dolicek stadium in Prague) will help a bit. I've had messages from a few Bohemians fans."

The local media picked up on some of the testimonies, one from a supporter who insisted the striker had "taught me something", the implication being it was not just emergency medical practice.

The forward can cling to that. He retains his "dream" to move to England one day and, at 1.87m tall and powerfully built, he would appear to boast the physical attributes to thrive there.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2017, with the headline 'Kone shrugs off haters to be the lifesaver again'. Print Edition | Subscribe