Cancer, blindness and a one-armed duo: Footballers' unusual ailments

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Gordon Banks – Blinded in one eye

Renowned as one of England’s best goalkeepers, Banks is credited with one of the greatest saves in football history, keeping out Pele’s goal-bound header in the in the group stage of the 1970 World Cup.

Playing for Stoke City in 1972, he was the keeper for the club’s only major trophy, the League Cup. But in October of the same year, the England No.1 crashed his car into a ditch while driving home from training.

He needed 200 stitches in his face and over 100 micro-stitches inside the socket of his right eye. His sight never returned and not surprisingly Banks’ playing career went dark too.

He took five years to recover and ready himself a return to football, signing for North American Soccer League (NASL) side Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1977.

The Strikers won their division that season and the Englishman was named NASL Goalkeeper of the Year after conceding only 29 goals in 26 games – the best defensive record of the NASL.

Eric Abidal – Liver Cancer

French defender Abidal spent most of his career at Lyon and Barcelona, winning three Ligue 1 titles in his three years with the former and an impressive 15 trophies in Spain, four La Liga titles and two Champions League triumphs among them.

The highly decorated Abidal, who turns 38 on September 11, was known for his strength and tactical prowess, being able to both command the defence and overlap when needed.

Abidal was determined to recover quickly and just seven weeks after his surgery, he was back on the pitch

What he was also famous for was battling cancer and, with the footballing world coming together to support him, he continued playing at the highest level.

In March 2011, Abidal was diagnosed with a tumour in his liver and had to undergo surgery. To show their support, both Lyon and Real Madrid players took to the pitch wearing ‘Get well Abidal’ t-shirts during their round of 16 Champions League match.

And on the weekend of his diagnosis, during Barca’s match with Getafe CF, fans rattled the stadium with no-stop applause for 22 minutes to reflect Abidal’s jersey number.

Abidal was determined to recover quickly and just seven weeks after his surgery, he was back on the pitch. He even played the full 90 minutes of the Champions League final against Manchester United on May 28, 2011.

Barca beat the Red Devils 3-1 that night and his teammates allowed Abidal to be the first player to lift the trophy in front of 85,000 fans at Wembley.

But in March 2012, Abidal had to undergo a liver transplant due to unresolved complications from his previous operation. He would return to the field, re-signing with Monaco and then joining Olympiakos, retiring in 2014.

Earlier this year Abidal linked up with Barcelona once more, taking on an ambassadorial role with the club.

Jonas Gutierrez – Testicular Cancer

The then-Newcastle United midfielder was highly regarded by former Argentina coach Diego Maradona, who once stated his national team revolved around Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Gutierrez.

After winning the Argentine top division title with Velez Sarsfield in 2005, Gutierrez moved to Mallorca at the end of that season. Three years later, he signed a three-year contract with Newcastle.

He made a remarkable recovery, returning to the squad in November, but a check-up revealed the cancer had spread

When the Magpies were relegated to the Championship in the 2008/09 season, Gutierrez stayed on even as players left for greener pastures.

Newcastle won promotion back to the Premier League the following season, with Gutierrez playing a pivotal role on the flank.

But in 2013, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. In a match against Arsenal in May that year, he collided with defender Bacary Sagna and complained about pain in his testicles in the following weeks.

He continued playing until the inflammation worsened in September and he eventually went for an ultrasound.

Gutierrez was a popular player in his time at St James' Park

The scan revealed a tumour in his left testicle and he underwent surgery to remove it the next month. He made a remarkable recovery, returning to the squad in November, but a scheduled check-up at the end of the season revealed that the cancer had spread to other parts of his body.

The winger flew back to Argentina for intensive chemotherapy and only returned to Newcastle in November 2014.

But upon his return, Jonas sued the club, alleging Newcastle intentionally dropped him as a result of his cancer, just two months into his recovery, to avoid having to pay him appearance-related bonuses.

He eventually won the lawsuit and moved to Deportivo La Coruna the following season. Now 34 years old, he is still playing, joining Argentine outfit Club Atletico Independiente for the 2017 campaign.

Hakan Soderstjerna – The 'one-armed bandit'

Soderstjerna, 41, who was born without his lower right arm, started his career at Swedish outfit Landskrona BoIS in 1994, when they were still in the top tier.

But after two consecutive relegations, he left Landskrona for Danish side Fremad Amager in 1996.

Twelve months later he made the move halfway across the world to play for Tanjong Pagar United in the 1997/98 S.League season. Dubbed the ‘one-armed bandit’ by the media, his presence down the flanks helped Tanjong Pagar to a second-placed finish that season.

Hakan Soderstjerna playing with Swedish side Landskrona BoIS. Photo: Bildbyran

Along the way, he met with a young Asraf Rashid and inspired him to pursue football despite his disability.

Soderstjerna re-joined Fremad the following year, where he would stay for two seasons, before moving back to Sweden and Landskrona. In his return to Landskrona IP in 2000, he was the club’s joint top-scorer in the league with 11 goals, ultimately earning a place in their Hall of Fame for playing more than 100 matches for the club.

He eventually retired from club football in 2007 at age 32.