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“Get used to the idea of watching it on television”

WITH no football to shout about at present - due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic - QPR+ commentator Nick London has penned some of his most noteworthy tales from press boxes all over the globe.

In story number five, and almost exactly 38 years on from Rangers' FA Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur, he recalls how he came so close to missing it!

I can still remember the shudder that went through me as those words came out of her mouth that morning.

I’m sure she was a very good nurse but she had clearly never been to a football match in her life. Either that or she was a Chelsea fan.

It was May 1982 and I was laid up in the Royal Free Hospital in north London with a huge and heavy plaster covering my whole leg.

The Anterior Cruciate Ligament is a sliver of gristle that runs through the middle of your knee and links the top half of your leg to the bottom half. If you snap it in two you can carry on regardless once you have recovered from the initial trauma. But an instability will remain that manifests itself as a painful and worrying wobble and should you want to do anything more than run in a straight line you had better get it fixed.

Now you’re thinking I should have been a Doctor.

I had waited a while for my turn to have the repair done and in early May I had received the call. The date seemed pretty convenient; I could cope with missing the home league fixture against Cambridge United on the 15th knowing that I would be out in time for Queens Park Rangers’ first FA Cup Final the following Saturday.

Then things started to go wrong.

Following the operation I developed a temperature that just wouldn’t go away.

The medical staff were concerned that the wound had become infected beneath the plaster cast and cut a window to make an inspection. No problem there but still the fever lingered.

And suddenly it was Friday. The cup final was tomorrow.

My ticket had been secured by friends. It was time for me to plan my escape.

 A tunnel. Trojan horse. Parachute. Anything.

“Matron, I’m really feeling pretty good now. Do you think I could go home?”

That’s when she let out that devastating line.

Some good friends had generously lent me their portable telly for my hospital stay. It had been a welcome companion but now I looked at it with disdain. I had no wish to watch the R’s in the FA Cup final anywhere other than at Wembley Stadium.

Around noon, a Doctor wandered past the end of my bed. Lean, young, male. Perhaps he might understand the importance of the FA Cup final.

It was worth a try.

“Tell you what, I’ll organise for a physio to show you the correct way to use crutches and if you are strong enough to go up and down stairs we’ll discharge you.”

I’d have hugged him, if I could have got out of bed.

I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. Somehow I would show the physio that I was ready for home.

I waited and waited. And waited a bit more. No. Don’t tell me the physio has gone home. And then, at about 6pm, there she was at the end of my bed with a shiny set of crutches under her arm.

She led me from the Kinnell Ward (make your own jokes) to the emergency exit stairs and showed me the correct way to ascend and descend. After nearly three weeks of lying in bed, eating hospital food and sweating out the anaesthetic I was weak as a kitten but it mustn’t show. It was like pumping iron but I passed.

I could finally leave.

A call to my friends Sarah and Phil saw them soon arrive. I was free of the Royal Free! Too weak to stagger on my own, as soon as we were out of the eyesight of medical staff my arms were draped over their shoulders while Phil had the added burden of the dreaded TV.

A night in my own bed and I was ready for Wembley. Got dropped off as close as possible but the distances are huge at a stadium like that. It was certainly tiring but nothing could stop me now.

Once safely inside, I took my seat on those dreadful low benches the old Wembley had and promptly found myself adopted by a burly Irish R. He had a proper poacher’s coat on and was soon whipping cans of beer out of the many hidden pockets. After a while I had to decline his hospitality as it led to unwanted journeys to the concourse!

A one-all draw. And a replay on Thursday.

By then I was much more able to haul myself about on crutches and despite the defeat that night I wouldn’t have missed it all for anything.

“Get used to the idea of watching it on television,” she had said.

And I nearly had to.

The care I received in 1982 was excellent and the knee still works.

Then and now our NHS truly is a wonderful thing with terrific staff.

The current crisis is a stark reminder of that.