'Diabetes never stopped me doing anything I wanted to' - Harrogate Town's Jack Muldoon on making it as a professional footballer with a pancreas that doesn't work

“What would you do if I collapsed and started having a hypo in front of you now?” asks Harrogate Town forward Jack Muldoon.

Saturday, 21st November 2020, 11:48 am
Updated Saturday, 21st November 2020, 12:06 pm
Harrogate Town's Jack Muldoon shows off his painted fingernails after netting against Crawley Town on World Diabetes Day. Picture: Matt Kirkham

Assuming the question is a rhetorical one I don’t say anything and wait for him to continue speaking.

A brief pause follows.

“No, I’m asking you, what would you do?” he says.

Jack Muldoon at Wembley with the National League play-off final winners' trophy after helping Harrogate Town secure promotion to the EFL for the first time in their history. Picture: Matt Kirkham

“Are you thinking about whether I need injecting or are you gonna start trying to force Lucozade down my neck?”

A 'hypo', although I don’t yet fully understand the term at this stage of the conversation, is when a person's blood sugar reaches a dangerous level and they start to suffer physically as a result.

I am aware that Muldoon is a type-one diabetic and, having done a bit of research into a condition which affects almost five million people in the UK just 10 minutes earlier, I try and use my recently-acquired knowledge to conjure up a logical response.

“As a type-one diabetic I understand that your body doesn’t produce insulin, therefore your blood sugar levels are always high..." I reply.

Jack Muldoon in action for Rochdale back in 2014.

Another pause.

"So surely I wouldn't need to give you more sugar?" I venture.

Wrong answer. The logic in my head seems sound, but a 'hypo' - short for hypoglycemia - happens when a person's blood sugar levels get too low, so administering Lucozade would in fact have been the correct thing to do.

Hyperglycemia or a 'hyper' occurs when sugar levels in the body reach a dangerously high level, and it would be in this case that a diabetic would need insulin.

Inspirational: Olympic rowing champion Sir Steve Redgrave.

Confused much? Well, whether you are or you aren't at this stage, it is my belief that plenty of other people wouldn't have been able to answer Muldoon's question with a genuine degree of certainty.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the major factors behind Harrogate's leading marksman celebrating his most recent goal in Town colours by showing off painted fingernails.

The 31-year-old's 85th-minute equaliser in Saturday's League Two draw with Crawley came on Diabetes UK’s World Diabetes Day.

Diabetes UK had asked people to paint their nails blue - the international colour for the condition - in support of all the people living with diabetes in the UK and then share what they were doing on social media.

Muldoon was more than happy to oblige and decided to take things a step further.

"I got involved because John McKie, who does Diabetes UK's social media, asked if I would help promote what they were doing," he says.

"It's basically just about raising awareness. Obviously people know of diabetes, but not very many actually know anything about the condition or understand it.

"I don't think a lot of people would have a clue how to respond to a diabetic having an episode, and one of the aims is to help more people understand."

That is not Muldoon's only reason for getting involved.

"The other big thing for me is that I think it's important to show people with diabetes that it doesn't need to limit what you can do in life," he adds.

"I was diagnosed at the age of 12 and I can honestly say that it's never once stopped me from doing something that I wanted to. Earlier in my career, I never thought to myself 'I can't be a professional footballer because of this condition.'

"When I found out that I was a diabetic, the only famous person I was aware of who had it was Steve Redgrave and at the time he was smashing world records at the Olympics. That was my initial inspiration.

"I've never not been able to train or had to come off in a game because of my blood sugar, simply because I know that I need to eat properly beforehand.

"Diabetes can probably affect certain people a bit differently, though I believe that if you're strong mentally then there's no excuse for letting it get in the way of anything."

But, what is the reality of living with type one diabetes? Is it a lifetime of depriving oneself when it comes to eating and drinking.

"My pancreas doesn't work. It doesn't produce the insulin my body needs to break down sugar, so I do have to be strict with what I eat. I can't have loads of sweets and chocolate, but I don't think anybody should be consuming huge amounts of these types of things anyway," Muldoon says.

"I can have most things. It's more about the amount of carbs, than the sugar content that I have to worry about. I have to get the balance of my diet right.

"I like a beer and I can still drink the same as any of my mates, though I think I get away with it because of how fit and active I am. Once I retire from playing, I will have to re-evaluate how much alcohol I can have.

"Basically, as a diabetic, you have to accept that you have to eat regular, balanced meals and you can't afford to miss any, as well as the fact that you couldn't do certain jobs like being in the army if you had to go without food for days in a combat situation.

"But, that's about it as far as I'm concerned."

It is clear that diabetes doesn't define who Muldoon is, if anything it has helped rather than hindered his career as a professional sportsman.

His belief that healthy-living and regular exercise is the best way of managing his condition has played a big part in him becoming one of the fittest, most dynamic members of every squad he has been a part of.

Ask anyone who watches Harrogate Town play on a regular basis who the club's hardest-working players are out on the pitch and there's a good chance that Muldoon is the first or second name out of every mouth.

"When I was at Rochdale we used to wear heart-rate monitors and Keith Hill, the manager, used to be blown away by my results. He'd say to me that he could not believe that I'd come top of all the running when I had diabetes," adds Muldoon, Harrogate's their top-scorer in each of his two previous seasons at the club.

"I think that having diabetes has helped drive me towards getting into the shape that I'm in, just because I personally believe that the best form of medicine for this condition is fitness and a healthy lifestyle.

"If I'm training with Harrogate every other day and in the gym in between then the exercise actually acts like a medicine because I don't need to take as much insulin through the day.

"That's something I've learned and I'm still learning about diabetes. It was only four months ago that I finally realised why I always felt so much lower on a Sunday after a match-day than I should have.

"It was because I was injecting the full amount of insulin following a game after I'd expended so much energy. That was bringing my levels down too low. Now, I'm taking half the dose and I feel better for it.

"We're all still learning about diabetes all the time."