AS Dave Mackinnon recovered at home from a fall that very nearly killed him last year, he started asking himself the same questions over and over again.

Why have I survived this? Why have I been given a second chance at life? Why have I been so lucky? He thought about his brush with death constantly as he fought his way back to full fitness with the help of his friends and family.  

Tumbling down a flight of stairs, smashing your head off a concrete lintel and rupturing an artery in your brain – which is what happened to Mackinnon after he had attended a business meeting in Edinburgh in February – is far from fortunate.

Yet, he was acutely aware that his old pal and former Dundee team mate John MacPhail had suffered far greater hardships than he had after being involved in an almost identical accident just a couple of months before him.

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“John was in a coma for a long time,” he said. “He is in a clinic in Middlesbrough now. I have been down to see him. He is really struggling. He has difficulty speaking and with his mobility. It is hard for him and his family.”

Mackinnon also felt blessed that doctors, surgeons and neurologists at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and Inverclyde Royal Hospital – about whom he is effusive in his praise – had identified the underlying medical conditions which had led to his fall and ensured that he received the necessary treatment.

“I got a lot of attention,” he said. “I had a catalogue of procedures. I got an MRI scan and was told there was a lesion on the right side of my brain that had been caused by a stroke. A neurologist told me, ‘The reason you had a stroke is there is a condition called arrhythmia which is very prevalent in ex-footballers’.

“When athletes and footballers train hard at the peak of their careers and push themselves to extremes, as I certainly did with Rangers at Gullane, their heart muscles grow to try and ensure enough oxygen gets to their body.

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“But when they retract, sometimes their heart can beat irregularly. The neurologist determined that was what had happened to me. But she really wanted to get to the bottom of it. So I had a genetic test as well and she found I also had an inherited condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

“It seems like a stupid statement to make, but I was lucky to fall. If it hadn’t happened, they would never have discovered this. It is treatable with drugs, with a defibrillator, with a pacemaker. I am on medication now which regulates it.

“But I saw a cardiologist this week and I am going to get a defibrillator fitted. It will get attached to my heart and if it happens again I will get a shock. It is a safety net and I think it will be important for me psychologically.”

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Mackinnon, who played for Dundee, Partick Thistle, Rangers, Airdrie and Kilmarnock and then worked as an executive at Hamilton and Morton, found that he was not content just to concentrate on his own rehabilitation when he got back on his feet.

“I was told I was very lucky to survive,” he said. “I had the accident and I recovered from it. I started thinking about why that was. I felt I had been given a second chance. I became determined to do something meaningful. I could have just got on with my life. But I saw that this, arrhythmia in footballers, was something that needs to be sorted.

“I still had an open wound in my head. I was waking up in the morning with blood all over the pillow. It would have been easy for me to say, ‘Ach, I’ll just take it easy and get on with my life’. But I suppose the challenges I had to overcome in my career have made me tougher, have made me resilient.

“I have also been involved in football and in business for a long, long time. So I knew I had a lot of people I could speak to who would be helpful. I just thought it would be entirely remiss of me not to try and get this done.”

Mackinnon, who looked a picture of health this week as he sipped his macchiato in a Glasgow city centre hotel, is using his contacts in the game and public profile to try and raise awareness of a silent killer and looking at ways to secure funding for a screening programme for ex-players.

The 67-year-old certainly believes that not nearly enough current and former players are taking a condition which tragically claimed the life of Motherwelll midfielder Phil O’Donnell when he was only 35 back in 2007 seriously enough.

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“After Phil died, Professor Stewart Hillis, who was the Scotland doctor, and Gordon Smith, who was the then chief executive of the SFA, introduced a heart screening test for current players,” he said.

“I spoke to Dr John MacLean, the SFA doctor who runs the Hampden Sports Clinic, about this. They write to all SPFL clubs offering screening, an ECG test, for heart issues every season. Some take it up, some don’t. It is only mandatory for Premiership players. 

“But it is out there. This is an issue that nobody really knows about. I never knew anything about this. I spent 20 years as a professional footballer and 15 years as a club executive and it is something I was completely unaware of. I am trying to get the word out that this is a potential issue for people and they should get tested if they have symptoms.

“I have spoken to clubs, to PFA Scotland, to the SFA and to the SPFL. They have all been very supportive. I have got a meeting with Scottish Women’s Football next week.

“Getting current players tested is key to it. But getting ex-players tested too is important. Sometimes the efforts they have put in during their careers can come back to bite them. I am looking into ways of funding a screening programme for former players.” 

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Mackinnon added: “In the NFL in the United States they discovered this in the 1990s and set up a screening programme for ex-players. They go once a year and get themselves checked out. It has been shown that 10 per cent of them have this issue. 

“The feeling is that something like that would be difficult to do here because of the expense involved in it. But I have looked to see if insurance can be used to fund something similar. As I say, this is out there.”

It certainly is. Mackinnon revealed that a number of famous former footballers have contacted him in recent months to let him know about their own struggles with arrhythmia. He is pleased that a couple of “household names” are set to join his crusade and go public in the coming months. 

“I am on a WhatsApp group with ex-Rangers players,” he said. “One of the younger members on it asked me what my symptoms were and I told him. He said, ‘I’ve collapsed a few times!’ I said, ‘Well you had better go and get yourself tested then!’. He went to his doctor and discovered he has got arrhythmia.

“A couple of real big name Scottish players have been in touch with me and we are hoping to do something together early next year. They have exactly the same thing as I do and are of exactly the same mind as me.”

Mackinnon has just written his autobiography, Slide Tackles and Boardroom Battles, and found the experience, after everything he has endured in the past 20 months, to be cathartic.

It is, though, a warm and entertaining book which is packed full of amusing anecdotes and wonderful tales about the clubs he was at, games he was involved in and characters he played with, against and under during his 20 year career.

One of the best is the bruising encounter he had with the Celtic and Scotland midfielder Murdo MacLeod, who is a relation of his, in an Old Firm game during his spell at Rangers.

“I was playing in centre midfield that day and was on the ball in the middle of the park when suddenly, bang, somebody slammed into me,” he said. “All of a sudden, I was lying on the turf. I never wore shin guards. I looked down and I had a big cut which was clearly going to need stitches.

“Brian McGinlay was the referee. He came running over and said, ‘That was a horrendous tackle, that’s a yellow bordering on a red’. It was Murdo who committed the foul. He leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, ‘Sorry Dave! I thought you were somebody else!’. I got up and said, ‘Don’t book him ref! It was mistaken identity!’. And he didn’t!”

You start to understand why Mackinnon has taken it upon himself to speak out about the dangers of arrhythmia as you read Slide Tackles and Boardroom Battles. He tackled every setback he encountered in his playing days head on. And he had to deal with far more than most footballers.  

He was told he would never play again when he contracted tuberculosis – the illness which killed his uncle when he was 37 - and needed to have a kidney removed when he was at Thistle. But he proved the doctors wrong.

He also recounts in moving detail the serious mental health struggles which his mother had throughout her life and how he had to fight with medical services so that she received the care she needed when he was an adult.   

“She had post-natal depression after my brother was born and they gave her electroshock treatment,” he said. “How barbaric is that? There were times in my early life when she would change from being this wonderful person to being a stranger who didn’t even know me.

“I suppose I have always pushed myself to do all that I can. I certainly think we need to get heart screening back at the forefront of players’ thoughts in this country before we are forced to by another tragic death on the field of play.”

Slide Tackles and Boardroom Battles by David Mackinnon is published by Morgan Lawrence and can be pre-ordered now at