Racially abused by their fans, Togolese striker Francis Kone has taken on hero status after saving a rival goalkeeper’s life in a Czech top-flight game last weekend.
Half an hour into Saturday’s tie pitting Bohemians 1905 Prague against Kone’s FC Slovacko, Bohemians keeper Martin Berkovec sprinted towards the edge of the box to head out a long pass.
He crashed into his teammate, defender Daniel Krch, who was also running after the ball at full speed.
The home crowd in Prague watched in horror as the impact left the 28-year-old Berkovec unconscious on the pitch with a swallowed tongue.
Swept to the ground by the tumbling keeper Slovacko striker Kone was first to provide emergency first aid as soon as he stood up.
“I was close because I was involved in the play,” Kone told AFP on Monday.
He managed to pull out Berkovec’s tongue in the time it took Bohemians’ medical staff to arrive at the scene after waiting for the referee to wave them onto the pitch and run some 60 metres (yards).
“Seconds matter in a situation like this. If you swallow your tongue you start to choke, the flow of air into the brain stops, so you have to act as fast as possible,” said Bohemians spokesman Tomas Mutinsky.
“If Martin is in a stable condition today, it is largely thanks to Francis,” he told AFP.
Martin Berkovec, goalkeeper of Bohemians 1905 Prague, seen in action during a match in Prague, in 2014
“I would like to thank Francis Kone for his prompt help that saved my life. Once again, THANK YOU,” Berkovec wrote on Facebook.
The keeper is set to meet his saviour soon.
“He has invited me for dinner,” said Kone.
One Bohemians fan tweeted his thanks to Kone after the goalless draw: “He taught me something today, and not only me.”
Another fan who was in the stands on Saturday told Bohemians’ club website how Kone’s quick thinking had impacted on the club’s hard core fans.
“Two guys were sitting next to me. Racists. Their language was…(racist), monkey stuff,” he said.
“And then comes the shock. Endless seconds. Martin falls and doesn’t move. Kone is the first to arrive. He pulls the keeper’s tongue out. A rival. A black guy.”
“The entire stadium is silent, including the two guys. I don’t give a damn about the score. Martin will be OK, Francis Kone helped him. A rival? A black? A man!”
Born in Bondoukou in the northeast of Ivory Coast, Kone has taken advantage of his mother’s nationality to play for Togo since 2013.
At 26, he has had a varied career, having played for several clubs in Thailand (Muangthong United FC, PTT Rayong), Oman (Al-Musannah), Portugal (Olhanense) and Hungary (Honved Budapest) before joining Slovacko in 2015.
“This is the fourth time it has happened to me — (I’ve experienced this) once in Thailand and twice in Africa,” said Kone.
“No, I don’t have medical education,” he chuckles.
“In this type of situation, I always make sure whether the player has not swallowed his tongue.”