Blackpool legend Mickey Walsh reflects on the day he almost lost his life as he prepares to make emotional return to Bloomfield Road
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The 65-year-old was holidaying in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with his wife Christine when he was suddenly rushed to hospital.
Fortunately his partner spotted the signs of what transpired to be a major stroke, Walsh finding himself in intensive care within eight minutes of falling ill at his hotel.
“From not really being here, I’ve come a long way,” Walsh told The Gazette.
“I feel fantastic now compared to how it could have been. I’m walking unaided, I’ve been doing physio, but I’m living a normal life.
“I’m very, very fortunate to have had my wife there at a crucial time. She virtually saved my life. I could have quite easily have died.
“We were on the Copacabana beach at the time. If you’re going to do it, do it properly…
“I felt unwell in the lobby of the hotel and she came down and saw me and diagnosed it straight away really.
“We went to the reception and we were in the hospital within eight minutes and that saved my life.
“I was in intensive care for a week and then another two weeks in hospital in Brazil and then I was repatriated back to Britain.
“I stayed there for about four months before being allowed to travel back to Portugal and resume a normal life.
“It was tough psychologically and mentally, but I’m used to stuff like that coming back from injuries during my football career.
“But I’m on the mend now.”
It could have been oh-so-different for Walsh, who was due to fly home the day after falling ill.
“The people in Brazil were fantastic,” he added.
“We speak Portuguese fortunately enough so that was a blessing.
“Had it been a day later, we would have been flying back across the Atlantic on an eight to ten-hour flight.
“There wouldn’t have been much of a chance then, would there? So it’s a blessing.”
Walsh, who is held in the highest regard by Blackpool fans, began his professional career with the Seasiders, making the move to the Fylde coast from his hometown of Chorley.
He made his Blackpool debut in 1973 in a goalless draw at Fulham, before going on to score 76 goals in 194 appearances during his five years at the club.
Walsh will be most fondly remembered for his goal against Sunderland in 1975, an effort that was voted Match Of The Day’s Goal of the Season.
It is fitting, then, that Walsh has been invited back to Bloomfield Road this weekend to be the guest of honour for Blackpool’s game against the Black Cats.
“It’s so nice of the club to invite me back,” Walsh said.
“My time at Blackpool was such an important part of my life, so it’s just nice to be remembered.
“It’s coincided nicely with that goal, too!
“That was scored in February 1975 so it’s almost 45 years to the day, give or take a few weeks.
“At the time that was a game at the top of the Championship when we were vying for promotion at the time.
“It certainly brings back good memories for me.
“It’s not easy to get to Blackpool but Christine will be coming, one of my daughters will be coming, my sister wants to come, so we’ll have a family gathering at Bloomfield Road.
“Me and Christine spend most of our time in Portugal but we’re having to come back to the South of England a lot more than we used to.
“That’s because we’re onto our fifth grandchild now, so as you can imagine I’m under pressure to get back here more often than not!
“But it’s great because family is everything to us. We have four kids and we have five grandchildren with one more on the way.
“That’s what comes first in our life, our priority is our family. We make sure to make the effort to see each other and we will continue to do that.”
Walsh left Blackpool in 1978 to join Everton for a fee of £375,000, a record fee for the Seasiders at the time.
He had a spell with Cape Town City before going on to play for QPR, Porto and fellow Portuguese clubs Salgueiros and Espinho.
“Porto is where I was most successful in my career, that was a fantastic time for me,” Walsh said.
“Blackpool and Porto were the main good times for me in my career.
“As a young lad starting off in football it was my dream come true to receive that first professional contract at Blackpool.
“I will never forget the day Bob Stokoe brought me to his office and said ‘there’s a contract here for you lad, take it or leave it’.
“But I jumped at it and I had to pinch myself really as I walked out of the office, I couldn’t believe I was a professional footballer.”
Walsh, who was inducted into Blackpool’s Hall of Fame when it was officially opened by the late, great Jimmy Armfield in 2006, says the future looks bright for the Seasiders under the ownership of lifelong fan Simon Sadler.
“It’s fantastic to see the club looks to have serious people running the show who seem to have the interests of the club at heart,” the former Republic of Ireland international said.
“I don’t think the previous people had that unfortunately, which is why the fans stayed away and not going to the games.
“Clearly the supporters trust the new people and want to get behind the club, like we all do.
“I was dubious about giving my support to people that don’t have the interests of the club at heart but now we can give our full backing to the club.”