Football, to paraphrase former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, was very nearly a matter of life or death for Paul Starr.
Not so much the sport itself, but it was during half-time of the much anticipated derby match between Peterborough United and Northampton Town that the teacher from Wellingborough suffered what could have been a fatal cardiac arrest if it was not for the quick thinking of an off-duty doctor and paramedics.
Paul (56) was in the best shape of his life having lost three stone last year, but his sudden collapse on October 18 tarnished what should have been a glorious evening for himself and daughter Emily, with Posh running out 3-0 winners against their biggest rivals.
Fortunately, Paul has since made a strong recovery, albeit he has suffered short term memory loss and cannot remember the events of that evening.
But on Saturday (December 10) he was able to return to the ground for the first time to meet up with the paramedics who saved his life, before sitting in the Directors’ Box with Emily to watch Posh thrash Chesterfield 5-2.
“I value life big time now in every sense,” said Paul, who is also a cricket umpire during the summer.
“I felt totally fine. The only thing I remember is going to get a cup of tea. I don’t remember the fact we were winning 2-0.”
Paul, who was born in Spalding, has been watching Posh play since 1971.
Although he is not yet able to resume jogging he plans to raise money for Magpas Air Ambulance which helped save his life, but there will be a permanent reminder of how close he came to dying with a defibrillator placed inside his chest.
Paul was certainly in good spirits on Saturday as he warmly thanked the paramedics and admitted his frustration at not being able to watch last month’s return match against Northampton, which Posh won 1-0.
And there were also kind words for the many people who wished him a speedy recovery following his cardiac arrest, including Posh manager Grant McCann.
“The support I’ve had from the football club and from the supporters has been phenomenal,” added Paul, who used to be part of the official supporters’ club and was recently secretary of the Peterborough Independent Supporters Association.
While the events of that Tuesday evening remain hazy to Paul, the horror of seeing her dad carried out on a stretcher remains fresh in Emily’s mind.
“It was the sickest feeling in my stomach, the most shocking thing,” she said.
“To see someone like your best friend lying there was the worst feeling ever.
“You see it on Casualty and you’re like it will never happen to you in real life. All the tubes and he was lying there literally helpless. It’s surreal.
“He woke up on Wednesday and looked at you like he did not know who you were, but later on he started to speak.
“His short-term memory was poor. You would need to tell him things again and again.
“It was on the Saturday or Sunday I knew he was going to be alright.”
Emily has been watching Posh with her dad for the last 20 years, ever since he took her along as a three-year-old.
And it quickly became apparent that something was wrong when Paul did not return to his seat in the N&P South Family Stand after half-time.
Emily said: “At half-time he got up saying he was going to the toilet. I said, ‘can you get me a tea?’
“Half-time went and the game started. After five minutes I thought ‘this is unlike dad’.
“I rang him like 22 times and he did not answer his phone. I checked all the food places and toilets and he was not there.”
There had been a commotion at the front of the stand where Emily was sat, with someone receiving CPR, and very quickly she began to put two and two together.
She said: “I went to the front stand and to the steward and said, ‘I’m pretty sure the man who has collapsed is my dad. I told him what he was wearing and I knew from the look on his face it was dad.”
It was from there that Paul was put in an induced coma and taken to Peterborough City Hospital where Emily and Paul’s wife Trudy sat by his side.
But it took until the following morning for Paul to wake up.
Emily was delighted to be back alongside her dad for the Chesterfield match, but she remains indebted to the people who made sure he survived to enjoy football again.
“Without them and everything they did he would not be here,” she added.
“There are not the words really to describe how thankful and grateful we are.”
Emily is now planning to do a sky dive on July 8 to raise money for Magpas Air Ambulance, which does not receive any state funding but instead relies on donations.
One of its paramedics who rushed in the air ambulance to help Paul was Dan Phillips.
Dan anesthetised Paul (giving him A&E level of care) after East of England Ambulance Service paramedics had resuscitated him.
Dan said it was “pretty awesome” to meet Paul again.