Colney Chat | Nathan Gartside
By Kevin Affleck
If Harry Kewell wanted some perspective after his Under-23 side shipped eight goals the other night, he needed to just make his way to the back of the team bus and have a chat with his goalkeeper.
As crazy as it sounds, Nathan Gartside, you see, was just happy to be in the position to concede eight goals.
He's been out of action for ten months through injury and not just any injury. So serious in fact was the illness he picked up last April that he was lucky to still be here, let alone donning his goalkeeping gloves again.
To discover when the teenager's world was turned upside you have to go back to last April, the day after the final Under-23 game of the season against Birmingham.
"I was in the gym and my chest closed up,” Gartside said. "I got pains in my left side and I couldn't breath."
With memories of the heart attack his father suffered flashing through his mind, Gartside staggered from the gym to the dressing room at London Colney. "I barely made it to the physio room," he said. "The physio stuck me on oxygen and they got the ambulance here straight away."
With the blue lights on and his mind racing, Gartside was rushed to Watford General before being quickly whisked to the heart specialist unit at Harefield. "The plan was only to stay one day, perhaps overnight to see what was wrong," Gartside said. "But I deteriorated in hospital."
He started vomiting, couldn't eat or drink and the situation escalated rapidly. "My heart rate was through the roof," he said. "My heartbeat was 120-140 [beats per minute] at rest. My heart rate would have been that had I been doing constant running."
He had an emergency heart biopsy and was stuck in intensive care. "That was when they told me I could have died. They said if I had left it ten minutes [more to see the physio], I might not have been sitting here. It wasn't the easiest thing to hear."
Not half. The biopsy reveal he had contracted a virus that killed off the left side of his heart. The medical term is myocarditis.
"I didn't have a heart attack – I had a heart problem," he said. "Most of the time I didn't know what was wrong – I just felt ill."
Gartside ended up spending two whole weeks in Harefield, six days of which were in intensive care. "I was seeing people on their death beds in there and thinking I was quite lucky to have made it."
The keeper thanks his lucky stars for the sport cardiologist who intervened during his very brief stay at Watford General. "They were going to put stents in and if they had, I would never have played football again. Thankfully the sports cardiologist was there and said I was nowhere near that bad as I was up walking. I was just out of breath."
Gartside was eventually discharged from Harefield with strict instructions not to do any exercise for up to ten weeks. And only then was he able to work at 60 per cent of his maximum heart rate, building up slowly in ten per cent increments. For a long while he was just restricted to some handling drills with Alec Chamberlain.
He thought he was out of the woods and very much on the slow road to recovery in his first year as a professional when near disaster struck again in October.
"Six months into my recovery I had another set-back," the luckless Gartside said.
"I had a chesty cough but it was the same sore throat I had two weeks before [the incident in the gym]. It's not a normal sore throat and I got that same feeling back. I had an MRI scan and the same thing I had in my heart had spread to my lung.
"They did a biopsy on my lung this time and my lung had deflated. They couldn't discharge me until it went back up. Luckily it went back up the same day. I then wasn't allowed to do anything for the next two weeks."
It was then another three months before he was in full training. He's now been back six weeks and was given the all clear to play against Ipswich Town last week. Conceding eight unanswered goals was not what he had in mind.
"I've never been embarrassed like that," he said. "It was hard to take but I couldn't do much about the goals, except perhaps the fourth one. But the only positive for me is that I was finally back on the pitch."
Hear, hear. His career set-back was particularly tough to take as last season the Northern Irish lad was travelling with the first team, home and away, for three quarters of the Premier League campaign as the No 3.
At 17, he was out warming up with the keepers before every game. Any injury to Heurelho Gomes or Costel Pantilimon would have seen him named on the bench.
"It was an unbelievable season for me," said the now 18-year-old. "Just the best. All the keepers are so humble and always giving you advice. I enjoyed every second.
"The outfield players were also a massive help, especially Troy, Craig and Ben. I was just getting comfortable and up to the right standard and then my illness happened.
"Things happen in football and I have to accept that. The club have been unbelievably supportive and I've always felt wanted. I just want to do everything to get back to where I was."