Photograph — LCI

Football is often described as the beautiful yet deadly game. Despite the usual beautiful skills and howlers that oversee the round leather game, there is this dark side no one ever wishes to see: injuries. Injuries are one thing every footballer dreads. The most dreaded of these injuries that have claimed lives is head collision. It is so lethal that it often kills before the medic team runs on to the pitch. The number of players that have died in recent time has however reduced due to the extraordinary bravery and life-saving skills of professionals like Francis Kone.

Francis Kone is a Togolese footballer who plays for  FC Slovácko in the Czech Republic. The 26-year-old striker is, perhaps, better known as a mayday saviour than as a footballer. On Sunday, he saved a player from dying, the fourth time he is doing this in his eight-year career. It is the second time in the last two weeks that a player will be saving another player after a collision. It took the effort of Atletico Madrid midfielders, Gabi and Sime Vrsaljko to save Fernando Torres after an 85th-minute collision left him motionless for several minutes. These players have created a hub for friendship, for the dignity of human life amidst fierce opposition.

On the day Kone became the unlikely hero, he had been repeatedly subjected to racist slurs by home fans, but it never stopped him from saving the life of an opposition player.

Kone, 26, was chasing a long ball which had been played over the top into the opposition 18-yard box when a collision ensured between the opponent’s goalkeeper who had rushed out to clear the ball and his defender who was determined to get the ball out of Kone’s way. The collision immediately rendered the goalkeeper motionless. With Kone himself on the floor, his instincts were geared by the noise from the clash of heads, and as he looked up at the motionless body of the goalkeeper, he knew there was one thing to do: to stop him from swallowing his tongue. With the defender’s teeth already clenched, Kone had to force his hand in, then into his throat to stop the slippery tongue. It was this singular act of sheer awareness and brilliance of his that saved the life of the goalkeeper, as it took the medics another couple of seconds to run across the pitch to where Kone was. At that point, the defender would have been dead.

Despite having no medical background and having undergone no formal training, the incidence on Sunday was the fourth time Kone would be saving the life of another player. It happened the first time eight years ago in Thailand when Kone had just left Africa as an 18-year-old trying to find his feet in the world of football. A teammate collapsed at a gym during training hours and it took the help of a quick thinking Kone to save the life of the young man. The second time was back in Togo, as Kone explains, during an exhibition game. A player awkwardly landed on his back after clashing heads with another player. In his own words, at that instant, he conducted another life-saving operation which could be taken as his toughest yet. According to Kone, the player had swallowed the tongue midway. Kone had to put his fingers in his throat to bring back the slippery tongue.

Though having Togolese roots, Kone was born in Bondoukou in the north of Ivory Coast and raised just outside Abidjan amidst hardship. Being a young boy but with an unwavering determination to succeed as a professional footballer, he purposed to outlast the hardship and follow his idol Didier Drogba to England. That dream still remains in its original form, a dream. He currently plays in the Czech top flight having had spells in six countries which include Oman, Thailand, Portugal, and Hungary.

The importance of players like Kone cannot be overemphasised in a football team. His acts are the true definition of sportsmanship. His likes, defying the odds of competition on the field of play to save opposition players, are one of those things that make football the beautiful game.

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