Andy Cole: Manchester United legend opens up on kidney struggles and lockdown

As the pressure mounts on the UK government to outline an escape route from lockdown those in the vulnerable health group will have to adjust to much longer in isolation.

The Premier League’s third highest goalscorer Andy Cole was on a golf course in mid-March when friends highlighted the possibility of a minimum of 12 weeks without human contact due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The following day he received a message from the NHS confirming his life-saving kidney transplant in 2017 meant he should follow the stricter measures.

In a wide-ranging interview with Sky Sports News, Cole revealed he is launching a research fund to help Kidney Research UK, opened up on the struggles with isolation and its impact on his mental health, and also discussed football and his career, picking his favourite goal.

‘Twelve weeks is a hell of a long time to spend by yourself’

“It hit me hard, it was crazy. It’s a hell of a long time to spend by yourself,” he tells Sky Sports News of the coronavirus lockdown.

“I’ve been used to lockdown before [with the treatment] so it was okay but it’s become tough.

“You get to that stage when you don’t even know what day it is but I’ve been trying my best to stay focused. As men we don’t really talk so it was funny yesterday that I spoke to my pal for two hours on the phone.

“I never do that. If you get five minutes out of me you’re doing well. I felt revitalised so that was a big plus.”

The 48-year-old suffered kidney failure in 2015 and underwent a life-saving transplant three years ago.

Cole has joined forces with Kidney Research UK to launch a research fund designed to improve kidney transplants and patient wellbeing.

He is not alone, with three million people in Britain living with kidney disease and 80 per cent of those on the organ transplant list waiting for a kidney.

“I didn’t understand what the kidney did. To a certain extent I was ignorant and told myself to man up, you’ll be okay in a couple of weeks,” he said.

“It wasn’t something I could run off. It’s something that could possibly take my life so I had to change and understand what I was going through.

“I always want better for me and that’s the conflict. If the body says I don’t really fancy it today I say ‘no that’s not good enough, I can’t accept it’. I try harder and usually pay for it the day after when I’m very tired.”

Accepting a new way of life

To form an acceptance or understanding of this Cole has had to fight the mental challenges of adapting to this way of living.

“To accept it at the time was difficult,” he admitted. “I had been a sportsman and had been fit so when a specialist tells you you’re going to work at half capacity it’s difficult to comprehend.

“I can’t take things easy. I’ve not had that mentality and if I do something I’ve got to do it properly. I’ve always been my own biggest critic and if I can’t do something I take it out on me. That’s been really tough dealing with that.”

So what advice would he offer those with kidney disease?

Cole said: “It’s perseverance, both mentally and physically. The mind and medication plays tricks on you but you have to try your best to keep persevering.

“Talk it out. I’m usually stubborn but I got to the state that I had to talk. I’m fortunate to have people who constantly ask how I’m getting on.”

Cole: My favourite goal

A key member of the treble winning Manchester United side of 1999 Cole has begun to reflect on his career while in lockdown and was asked to pick his favourite goal.

He said: “The Tottenham one when we won the league at Old Trafford. I enjoyed it so much after what happened in 1995 against West Ham at Upton Park [Blackburn won the league].

“1999 put me at peace with what happened in 1995. I don’t really reflect but this is the only time I have reflected because I’ve so much time on my hands. It’s therapeutic. I look back and think I did alright. I did okay.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had been in a good run of form before the pandemic suspended the Premier League season, with much debate about how and when football can return.

“It can only return under the right circumstances,” Cole insisted. “Sport means a lot but it can’t mean more than life.

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