Frank was taken to hospital. His heart had stopped

Johnny Watterson: Eriksen incident rekindled memories of that terrible morning on Vico Road

You can feel for Denmark boss Kasper Hjulmand. This week he criticised the Uefa protocols that allow a match to be postponed for 48 hours due to Covid-19 but not when his player Christian Eriksen has a cardiac arrest on the pitch.

It also makes you wonder whose wellbeing Uefa had in mind when they stuck to those tournament rules and asked Denmark to play a match that under the circumstances they could never have expected to win.

The thousand things you do to get a performance and a wrecking ball crashes through them all.

In the aftermath Sanjay Sharma, a sports cardiologist at London’s St George’s University explained it as only a professor can.


“Without putting it too bluntly, he died today, albeit for a few minutes,” said Sharma.

When the players circled Eriksen on the pitch and cried as team doctors fought to save his life, it brought Frank Green to mind.

In the 1980s Frank collapsed during a running session the Irish hockey team was doing prior to an international tournament in London.

Frank went down on one knee during a light, early morning workout on the Vico Road in Dublin. Moments later the squad goalkeeper, Peter McCollum, stopped and crouched beside Frank as a concerned coach Terry Gregg also approached.

McCollum was a surgeon, Gregg a dentist. McCollum appeared to be speaking into Frank’s ear before he eased him gently to one side and onto the ground, his hands automatically feeling for a pulse. But there was no pulse. Within seconds the two doctors were frantically working to try to save his life, instantly, falling into an urgent, critical series of revival protocols.

A blanket arrived from a woman in a large gated house nearby called Undercliff. She also rang for an ambulance. We kept Frank warm and the doctors kept working.

We all understood the enormity of what was taking place in front of us and while McCollum remained in charge in that procedural, professionally heroic way in which doctors conduct themselves; we all knew that our teammate was not responding.

Most of the squad kept a helpless distance. Distressed, confused, disbelieving and afraid, we stood in the chill of the morning as Frank was taken to the hospital. His heart had stopped. He was 24-years-old and was pronounced dead later that day.

After much discussion we went to the tournament two weeks later. I can’t remember any of the matches. I do know that we didn’t win it. I don’t recall if we won any of the games.

We had said all of the right things, made the right moves, went through our routines and team talk and warm up. We had encouraged each other and supported each other and then we went out and got beaten.

Binding force

When you compete at that level, it has to be the most important thing that you are doing at that moment and it wasn’t. We had thought and hoped that the tragedy of Frank’s death could in some way act as a binding force and it couldn’t. We were there but no one was present.

Eriksen’s life was saved and although his future as a football player is in doubt, that is an important distinction as the Danish team returned to the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen to face Belgium last night. Captain Simon Kjaer said before it that he believed the game will give Denmark “peace in our minds” as they “play for Christian”.

He said: “It has been some very special days, where football has not been the most important thing.”

I remember similar words said over and over. He said: “A shock, that will be part of me – part of all of us – forever.” I also recall knowing that would be the case for everyone who stood on The Vico Road.

He said: “I am proud of how we reacted as a team and how we stood together in these difficult times. I am touched and grateful for all of the support.”

So we all were. But in what state of mind could Denmark come into last night’s match in the presence of thoughts and emotions they had never experienced before.

Maybe there is the difference between a bunch of amateur players and professionals. It showed in the team’s ability to use the calamity of Eriksen as a provider of energy, to use the signed jersey of the entire Belgian team, handed over before the match began, as a cleaver to cut away at the confidence of Belgium and to use the one-minute tribute to Eriksen on the 10 minute mark as a restorative infusion of energy.

It was a master class in weaponising the emotional churn of the game against Finland and the sickening image of their fallen player.

They fell short of the world number one side thanks to the assist and goal from substitute Kevin De Bruyne. But Denmark used distress as a force giver, not a taker. It used shock as a creative impulse that sent Belgium into stunned wonder at what came at them in the first half. They used trauma to inflate.

What an extra 48 hours would have done for them against Finland and their greater championship aspirations. But when Eriksen fell in the 42nd minute their tournament perished too. There is no way Uefa protocols can get around that.