Ten years ago today TV sports presenter Gary Newbon suffered a life threatening stroke. He tells Graham Young how he hopes his recovery will help to inspire the 150,000 other people who go through the same trauma every year
On February 2 2002 Gary Newbon woke up and his hotel bedroom started spinning.
The previous day he had covered the Manchester United v Sunderland game, and feeling ill, was driven along the M6 to see a doctor and fell asleep.
Mr Newbon, 66, said: “And that’s when I had the stroke. I couldn’t move my right leg – that was my biggest shock. I couldn’t get my words out. I was slurring. My tongue felt tied up. All I wanted to do was to sleep.
“And I thought... ‘the World Cup is coming up in June, I don’t want to miss that’. Talk about getting your priorities wrong. When I look back, how stupid I was.”
After suffering his stroke, Mr Newbon was taken to the Priory Hospital in Edgbaston.
“I woke up at lunchtime and was amazed to see Ron Atkinson at the end of my bed. He said to me: ‘Sorry I’m late, I had to walk round the hospital three times before anybody recognised me.
“The game that afternoon was terrible, Middlesborough nil, Charlton nil. Ron said to me: ‘You’d better move over, this is making me feel ill’. I went to sleep and when I later woke up, I could not speak.”
Mr Newbon believes he was saved by taking a baby aspirin regularly on the advice of a former partner at squash.
“That probably played a major part in making the stroke less serious than it should be.”
He returned to his Solihull home to calls and letters from well wishers.
“Brian Clough wasn’t known for writing letters,” he said. “But he sent me one saying ‘Be good. We love you. Brian and Barbara’.”
Sent to boarding school by a father who had been on 40 RAF bombing missions in the war, he grew up with plenty of fresh air and exercise and learned enough leadership skills on the field to end up running Central Television’s pioneering sports department.
He also loved being ITV’s foot-in-the-door reporter at live football matches.
Well paid for a job he adored, he covered seven World Cups, three Olympic Games and countless live football matches.
Mr Newbon also enjoyed fine dining, chomping on the odd cigar and having his fair share of booze, bacon and chips.
Add on the stress of constant travel – he’d get home from the jams around an Old Trafford Champions League tie at 3am – and something had to give.
Thanks to prompt, expert treatment, he was covering England’s international matches at the 2002 World Cup in Japan just five months later.
Still working regularly with new employers Sky Sports, he’ll celebrate his 67th birthday on March 15 with wife Kate and grown-up children Neil, an actor; Laurence, a cameraman at soccer matches; and their younger sister Claire, a freelance journalist and mother of near three-year-old Jake.
He added: “We had no idea that fried foods and chips were bad for us when we were growing up. We didn’t know about processed foods. Cancer covered over things.
“We were healthier because of games and sports but had no education about smoking, drinking and food.”
“Once you are over 50 you should have annual checks for bowel cancer and to check your prostate.
“Today, I don’t miss an opportunity for a check-up. I know I am not invincible any more. I take all my pills. Whatever they say, I will do it.
“My advice is that you don’t want to have one of these strokes, they can leave you paralysed. If you are obese, you will pay for it.”
>More information at www.stroke.org.uk