Terry Gibson will never forget the 2009 Champions League final. Not due to the fact that Barcelona delivered a footballing master class, when beating his old team Manchester United, but because he watched the game from a hospital bed knowing that the next day he faced what amounted to a life-saving operation.
Gibson, a hugely popular member of the Northern Ireland backroom team when Lawrie Sanchez was in charge, admits to fearing the worst when he was told in March last year that he needed a quintuple heart bypass.
A couple of months later La Liga’s Sky Sports pundit was having surgery.
“The surgery was on May 28 last year at 8am, the morning after Manchester United lost to Barcelona in the Champions League final,” recalls the 47-year-old.
“It was back in March that I first had a problem walking down the street with a pain in my back. To be honest I thought it was indigestion but after three weeks of it going on, I went to see the doctor. I could only walk really slow. Any speed at all and I would get the pain in my back. I was being overtaken by OAP’s and zimmer frames!
“The doctor asked me if there was any history of heart problems in my family. I told him my dad had died of a heart attack, my mum had problems and my dad’s brother had also had a heart attack. An ECG was done on me and I was referred straight to the hospital.
“Tests were conducted, for instance I was supposed to do six minutes walking and then six minutes rest and so on. I could only do two minutes.
“The plan originally was to do put a stent in but on further diagnosis I was told I would have to undergo major heart surgery because I had FIVE blockages in my arteries.
“I was scared of what could happen. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. You do fear the worst but the medical people reassured me that this was a more normal occurrence than you would think.
“It took six weeks for the surgery and that was the worst time. It was very worrying because I wasn’t just thinking about myself, I was thinking about my wife Paula and our two children. You try and reassure them everything will be fine, but it is difficult. One of the hardest things was telling my son who was in America in college. Once he heard he came straight home.”
With the surgery deemed a success, the slow recovery began.
“To get home I had to climb a flight of stairs in the hospital. I felt as though I was walking all the way up to the Empire State Building as I did it. I was begging for breath at the end,” says
affable Terry, who adds that he has since returned to normality.
“Thankfully there’s been no complications. I’m training three days a week and playing football again. I live a pretty normal lifestyle, bar taking a load of tablets. My diet wasn’t that bad before — though eating all those Ulster fry-ups when I was with Northern Ireland may not have helped! Now I’m much more aware of what I eat because I need to keep my cholesterol down.”
Incredibly, Terry returned to work for Sky just 10 days after the operation.
In his third season as a co-commentator for Sky on Spanish football, Gibson is fast becoming one of the most re
spected and well liked pundits on television.
He enthusiastic and passionate nature comes across superbly on screen and is forever grateful to a Northern Ireland sporting icon for helping him find this new and blossoming career.
“I have a lot to thank Gerry Armstrong for because he recommended me to Sky,” adds the former Manchester United and Spurs striker.
“I was living in Spain, doing scouting work for clubs, watching La Liga football and Sky gave me the opportunity to be a co-commentator.
“It is a dream job for me because I love watching football and love talking about it, and with Sky I get to do both.
“Some commentators laugh at me when they see me coming with my books and files for the game but I like to do as much preparation before a match as possible. I’ll do about two to three hours of research ahead of every game. I like to be armed with as much information, knowledge and statistics because I want to give the viewers as much as possible.”
Gibson believes that right now La Liga is stronger than the English Premier League, arguing that the best two players on the planet, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, strut their stuff in Spain.
Then there is the growing influence of Real boss Jose Mourinho.
“Jose has made a big impact at Real Madrid. There is never a dull moment with him. Even with Jose though, I think Real will lose out to Barcelona in La Liga,” says Terry.
“Barcelona play the perfect way and to me are like the world champions Spain with Messi. Players like Xavi and Iniesta are so comfortable on the ball, but something that is often forgotten is how hard they work when they don’t have it. I think they’ll win the Champions League as well as La Liga this season.”