Football often gets a bad press but seldom the credit for redeeming itself – by shining a strong, steady and honest light on some of the darker elements that blight our world.
From depression, to alcoholism, to gambling addiction, you will find a footballer willing to talk frankly about these conditions for the good of others. From my circle of interviews over recent times, Mel Sterland and Shane Nicholson come particularly to mind.
But you don’t have to go to those unfortunate extremes to find examples of football people putting everyone on their guard. Take the old ticker. Of all the people it knows in the game, this column would never in a million years have put Brian Laws and Carlton Palmer in the same sentence as major heart surgery.
Yet, within a few months of each other in 2016, the former Sheffield Wednesday manager and the legendary ex-Owls midfielder underwent potentially life-saving operations.
Happily, both have made, or are making, excellent recoveries with health and fitness fully restored.
They were very different cases, however. Turns out Carlton had a small heart defect from birth that, in retrospect, became a ticking timebomb in the light of his collapse, while playing football, in China. Emergency surgery thankfully repaired it.
“My heart is fine – no blocked arteries or anything like that,” he says, not wishing to make a public drama of what was a real crisis at the time.
Meanwhile, it was only on a rigorous, regular cycling jaunt that Laws noticed anything amiss. All the initial tests came back clear and it was only the instinctive perseverance of a surgeon friend that uncovered a terrifying 95 per cent arterial blockage and the need for an emergency double heart bypass.
Brian, aged 55, was in the game for nearly 40 years as player and manager. Is football bad for your health? Would he come back?
He tells me: “I owe my life to my doctor friend. After the success of the operation, he said ‘go away and enjoy your life.’
“The only other thing he’d probably suggest is to stay away from football!”
Laws doesn’t entirely rule out coming back, such is the power of the drug, but adds: “My 20 years in management probably speeded things up in terms of the heart scare.
“It is a stressful job; certainly not a normal job. You’re scrutinised morning to night. It’s results based and if you’re not getting them, you’ll get criticised.”
Palmer has been a manager only briefly – at Stockport and Mansfield – and not since 2005, but his scare was not related to his lifestyle in any case.
As he’ll prove when he next disappears over the horizon on the hilly 10k event in Sheffield that bears on his name aid of Cavendish Cancer Care.
But you are still left with the impression that if it can happen to these guys, both very fit, it can happen to anybody.