‘I know the risks, but my heart condition won’t end my footballing dream’

Alfie Rutherford, left     Picture: Ashley Zee
Alfie Rutherford, left Picture: Ashley Zee
Dion Donohue is sent off at Doncaster. Picture: Paul Currie

Pompey boss warns red carded defender

  • Rising star Alfie Rutherford scored 21 goals for Bognor last season
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Alfie Rutherford is aware of the risk – but football is his life.

The 17-year-old aspires to reach the professional game, the Football League a coveted presence.

If I didn’t play football what is the point of living? Football is my life

Alfie Rutherford

There is rich talent too, an eye-catching 21-goal haul for Bognor last season earning a summer move to the Hawks.

Rutherford, however, is playing with a heart condition.

The striker has been diagnosed with aortic stenosis, defined by an unusually narrow valve which consequently decreases blood flow from the heart.

Strenuous competitive sport is not recommended to sufferers and subsequently deprived him of a Pompey scholarship in the summer of 2014.

The two-year deal was withdrawn after his heart issue was highlighted during a routine medical.

Unwilling to take the risk, Pompey backed away, while the Football Association strongly advised the pacy forward to quit the sport he loves.

Yet Rutherford plays on, refusing to accept defeat and still shining three divisions below the Football League.

He has heard the shrieking warning klaxons, while the dreaded worst-case scenario is no taboo subject. He stands sober at the roulette wheel.

But Rutherford will not surrender his footballing ambitions.

He said: ‘When I joined Bognor, my dad argued with my mum about it.

‘He said “If Alfie was to die on the football pitch who would you blame?” My mum responded “Bognor”.

‘My dad replied “Well he won’t play football any more then. But if he wants to play football it is his risk, if he dies it is his risk. It is his choice”.

‘He is right. If I didn’t play football what is the point of living? Football is my life.

‘If I am not enjoying myself then I am only going to be sitting around being lazy and putting weight on, which would put more stress on you.

‘I don’t see the problem really.

‘Why would I want to watch my mates play football and not play with them? I would rather join in.

‘I know the risks and personally don’t think there are any because I never feel in danger when I play. I don’t get out of breath easily, if anything I was probably one of the fitter players at Bognor.

‘I am an industrial roofer and can tell you there is more risk on a building site.

‘My mum and dad now know if I was to drop dead on a football pitch it is my risk. They will never, ever blame the club.’

Rutherford’s family were made aware of their son’s medical condition shortly following his birth, a bout of tonsillitis leading to an early discovery.

Yet medication is not required, nor has he endured discomfort or pain.

Keyhole surgery, however, was necessary at the age of 14 to open up the problematic valve. Rutherford was back playing within a month.

His Pompey association began at the age of nine, having caught the eye as a goal-getter at Moneyfields.

The Baffins youngster went on to impress during seven Fratton Park seasons, although largely at the centre of defence or right-back.

Then arrived the set-back which understandably would have grounded so many others harbouring football ambitions.

‘My condition doesn’t affect me in any way, I have a check-up once a year. It is not really that serious,’ Rutherford added.

‘I was offered a scholarship and coincidentally the medical was taken by the same woman who handled my heart scans at Southampton General Hospital.

‘About a week later I was called in for a meeting and told I wasn’t allowed to sign.

‘I visited an FA doctor for more details. He said: “You can play any standard of football you want, Premier League, League One, Sunday League, but it is your risk. It is down to the club whether they want to take that risk”.

‘Pompey had offered the scholarship so I must have been good enough, but they didn’t want to risk it.’

The FA has no jurisdiction to prevent somebody with a heart condition from playing the sport.

This despite introducing more heart screenings following Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest on the White Hart Lane pitch in March 2012.

Rutherford’s dad, Miles, is a familiar figure among non-league circles and presently manager of Chichester City.

And the ex-Hawks footballer supports his son’s decision to continue playing.

Rutherford senior said: ‘As a father, I have always said never take football for granted, it doesn’t matter if you get knocked down, you keep going.

‘The most important thing is to enjoy it.

‘There is a risk, but Alfie wants to play football more than he wants to do anything else.

‘He is 18 in August and it is down to him, it is his choice.

‘Some people will look at us and say “You are wrong letting him play”, but I can’t stop him now.

‘If specialists say he has a problem then of course he does, but he has never had any reaction whatsoever.

‘As a family we know the risk.

‘If, God forbid, anything did happen, there is no way I am afterwards going to turn around and blame anyone.

‘There will be players at higher levels than Havant performing with the same condition or worse.’

Certainly his son carries on regardless, with a passion not to be extinguished.

The teenager added: ‘Getting into the Football League is every semi-professional’s aim – and still my ambition.

‘Why would you give up on something you dream of?’