The former footballer speaks candidly about his health fright and memories of life in his playing days under Kevin Keegan at Newcastle United.
David Ginola: Life after surviving a cardiac arrest and why France are looking good for World Cup 2018
“It was a beautiful day in May 2016 and I was playing a charity football game in the south of France,” recalls the former Paris Saint-Germain, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, Everton and France international David Ginola, 50.
“In the second half, when I was going back to my half, I fell on the floor and was unconscious. I started to swallow my tongue and my friends on the pitch called the emergency services.
"They explained the situation and were told what to do, which was forget about the tongue and concentrate on the heart. I was lucky that some of my friends knew how to perform a CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).”
For the next nine minutes, Ginola’s friends took it in turns to dig into his ribs towards his heart.
“I was actually dead,” explains the only player to be crowned footballer of the year in both France and England.
“My heart had stopped. They kept expecting something, but nothing happened until the emergency services arrived. They shocked me once, twice. They actually shocked me five times before they got a response from my heart using a defibrillator.”
Ginola was taken by helicopter to hospital in Monaco and underwent an operation lasting six hours.
“Surgeons made a quadruple bypass on my heart,” explains Ginola. “My heart stopped a second time. I had died again.”
Ginola had felt no previous symptoms.
“Normally when you have a cardiac arrest, you have a pain in your heart. You feel pressure on your chest. I didn’t feel anything. I just went on the floor and then woke up in hospital," he added.
"I can’t say that I was in any pain. I can’t even say that my life flashed before me. It’s a shame that I didn’t get to relive all those wonderful moments! When I woke up, the doctor said: ‘Do you know where we are?’
"He was concerned about my brain and he asked me questions about where we were, about if I’d remembered anything that had happened to me. I had not. The doctor told me to look at my chest and I look down to see plasters and tubes coming out. I asked him if it was pretty heavy and he said that it was.”
Ginola was talking this week at the Lisbon Web Summit and was keen to offer some statistics.
“Twenty thousand people die while doing sport in Europe each year,” he said. “We can all be victims of a cardiac arrest, but the survival rate is 5 per cent.
"There are eight million fatalities every year, the second biggest cause of death in the world after cancer. Sport has a duty to raise awareness in the general public.”
Ginola was lucky to survive in more ways than one. The football pitch ambulance didn’t have GPS, but by chance the paramedic had been there earlier in the day.
"Someone was there who knew how to do CPR, although because Ginola had joked that he was going to fall over to win a penalty, some players initially thought he was spoofing. One, Frederic Mendy, was the first to try CPR.
"Ginola’s now in good health and enjoying football, especially his former club Tottenham Hotspur.
"When I look at Tottenham now I see a big club,” explains the London resident. “It’s growing step by step and there’s such a massive difference from when I played there. On the pitch, Tottenham scare teams now. Mauricio Pochettino is giving an example for others, the club under Daniel Levy too. I hope both stay for a long time.
“Tottenham beating Real Madrid brought them to the attention of the world in a different way. Everybody knew about Tottenham, but now they see Tottenham as a challenger. For the Premier League, even for the Champions League. That has only become the case just now, but this team excites me."
The defence also impresses Ginola when it comes to Tottenham.
He said: “When Franz Beckenbauer managed at Marseille, he said: ‘The best teams have a solid defence. If you have a solid defence that doesn't concede, you will always get at least one point.’ Pochettino, who was a defender himself, has done that with Tottenham.
"Hugo Lloris is a fantastic goalkeeper. Jan Vertonghen, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Toby Alderweireld have made Tottenham’s defence solid. Christian Eriksen has been a big asset for years. Dele Alli is the jewel in the crown of the academy with Harry Kane.
"I’m very impressed by Kane, he’s scoring year in year out, he’s a player you can rely on. He doesn’t get injured. He’s on top of his game not only with his feet, but his mental approach too.
“The new stadium, with 61,000 seats, will help and I understand why Spurs needed a bigger stadium, but they will probably lose something along the way. White Hart Lane was beautiful, the atmosphere unique. It was home and unlike the new big stadiums which all seem to be made the same way.
"They have different architecture, but they all look similar, with concrete all around. I remember going into the old Highbury, another one, like White Hart Lane, where the smell was of football and former glories.
"You remember the small details, the heating under the floor at Highbury. I’ve become nostalgic because I’m getting older and I think about the past as it was, but we live in our times.”
Ginola believes Spurs have another factor in their favour – London.
“It’s easier to settle in a cosmopolitan city and I speak from experience after I moved to London from Newcastle,” he explains. “You can take a train to Paris in two hours, there are flights everywhere. When I wanted to go to Nice from Newcastle it mean two flights and an entire day travelling.”
Ginola retains happy memories of his time at Newcastle, a team good enough to hammer double winners Manchester United 5-0 in October 1996.
“Kevin Keegan didn't have to say much to motivate us that day,” recalls Ginola. “We knew the strength of Man United, but we were sure of our qualities. We scored five great goals.”
Was it revenge, because United had come from 12 points behind Newcastle to win the 1996 Premier League earlier that year?
“No – certainly not among the players. Maybe among the managers. I remember (Kevin) Keegan’s frustration (with Sir Alex Ferguson earlier that year) and him saying ‘I’d love it’ (for title rivals Man United to drop points).
"That was the first time I saw Kevin getting out of his mind. We were in the dressing room and we could hear him shouting outside doing the live interview with Sky.
"He was very loud. He came in the dressing room and banged the door. We’d not seen him like that. He was usually calm, composed, cool and very down to earth. He was a very nice man. But he probably realised at the time that he made some mistakes in managing his team.
"In the second half he could have dropped someone, maybe put on a defender or a midfielder to hold our lead. Maybe there was a weakness in terms of strategy and when you realise that you need to get all these frustrations out of yourself.”
Ginola played in a hugely entertaining Newcastle side.
“We finished runner up twice,” he points out.
Did he think that Newcastle United would win the league when they were 12 points clear in January 1996?
“Oh yeah,” Ginola declares, “Oh yeah. We thought that nothing could stop us. We were scoring goals for fun. We did concede some silly goals, but always managed to score one more goal than opponents. We didn’t have injuries or suspensions. It was looking really good until Man United came to St James Park in March.”
Manchester United players, officials and fans still recall it as the game which helped swing the title their way. Martin Edwards, then chairman at United, remembers the 1-0 victory for giving him a better buzz than any other.
“If we’d lost that game, there would have been no doubt that we would have not won the league,” he said.
But Manchester United did not lose.
“Eric (Cantona) scored,” sighs Ginola. “It was a killer. It was such a tight game and we knew that whoever scored one goal would probably get all three points.
"It was such a frustration to play so well for an entire season and win no trophies at all. That was my biggest frustration, that we couldn’t give a trophy to those wonderful fans who’ve been supporting their team for years.
"I’ve met so many over the years and I never lost in my mind how important those fans were. I respected that. I felt it very strongly at Newcastle. It’s a very working class city. Tough life. Tough weather. Tough people. I wanted so much to win a trophy for them.”
Ginola still watches a lot of football in his role as a television analyst.
“I covered 11 games in Euro 2016. Many of them were France. What is exciting about the current team is the change in mentality since 2010, when the players went on strike. Men earning millions on strike. How did the miners feel about these players going on strike, the normal workers? If you play for France then it should not be for money, but the pride of wearing the national jersey, not the bonuses and the sponsors.”
“Now, their priority seems to be wearing the national jersey, like I see in other counties. I see other players crying when they hear the national anthem, but in France there was a weird comprehension of why players didn’t seem so concerned about wearing the national shirt. When I was young, my goal was to wear the shirt of France, to play for my country with the little cockerel on my chest.
“We’re quite controversial about everything national in France. We’re not that proud of being French compared to other countries. When England’s national team play you see St George flags in the houses and the cars. In France, for years the national flag meant you were a nationalist, even if you were just patriotic. I think France is reclaiming the flag again, but we are also very patriotic when we are winning!”
Ginola is optimistic on France's hopes of challenging to win the World Cup next summer in Russia.
“France has the ability to do well in Russia. When they reached the final against Portugal last year there was a lack of inspiration and maturity, plus experience of playing in a final. Players learn from their mistakes, they’re getting more mature and stronger mentally,” he said.
Players like Anthony Martial have caught Ginola's attention.
“Anthony is amazing, but when you sign for such a big club like Manchester United there is so much pressure,” something which Ginola knows all about.
“Footballers are not robots. You have the press on your shoulder all the time asking questions. If you don't score in a few games there are problems. It’s hard for a young man who is yet to mature. I was a baby at that age, yet the younger players seem to be more mature now. Mentally and physically, they look like they’re older, but 99 per cent of being a footballer is in your mind.”
Ginola’s mind has been focused after his heart attack, and he wants to spread his message to save lives so that others can be as fortunate as he was.
“I want more people to be able to save lives and know how to do CPR,” he said. “Kids should be learning how to do it – it takes an hour to learn. One person in each family who knows how to do CPR. People with a history of heart problems should have a check up. My mother died of a heart attack; my father needed four heart operations”
He knows that most heart attacks happen at home, as night, with loved ones present. They’re often struck by panic and don’t know what to do.
“Sadly, the survival rate for cardiac arrest is not increasing,” said Ginola, “and the victim loses 10 per cent chance of survival every minute they are not seen to.”
Ginola hopes to use technology to optimise the management of emergencies. His idea was nodds.com, a free system where GPS will be used to help get the fastest response, be it by locating the nearest defibrillator or the nearest person who is registered to perform CPR.
It is expected to be an app in two or three months.
“After my accident I asked myself so many questions,” concludes Ginola. “As well as CPR, it’s vital that we stop managing emergencies with tools from the last century.
"We’re all supposed to be connected on social media, but are we really connected if someone has a cardiac arrest?”