Meet the striker who saved a player's life on the pitch

From BBC - November 13, 2017

High on a shelf in an unassuming living room on the outskirts of the Czech city Brno sits a trophy with the words 'THE BEST - FIFA' on it.

It's a modest place for such a prestigious award yet its equally-humble owner hopes its symbolism can change one of football's - and society's - greatest scourges.

Francis Kone was awarded the Fifa prize last month after the Togo international, then playing for Slovacko FC, saved the life of Bohemians' Martin Berkovec while playing a Czech league game in February.

He did so by reacting quickest after the Bohemians goalkeeper was knocked out by one of his own players - putting his fingers inside Berkovec's mouth to stop him from swallowing his tongue.

The act has become something of a speciality for Kone, who has saved four people's lives this way but the presence of TV cameras on this occasion meant he has since shot to global fame.

Nonetheless, he still did not expect to receive the annual Fifa Fair Play Award, his name glittering brightly alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gianluigi Buffon and Zinedine Zidane during October's ceremony in London.

"I was very surprised. It was like a dream," said the Ivorian-born Kone, who has won two caps for Togo because of his mother's nationality.

Over the shock, the 26-year-old now believes the award can help combat the scourge of racism - the striker suffered racial abuse from some Bohemian fans during the opening 30 minutes of February's match in Prague.

"It is a message. Fair play means something like this too - to stop racism, this is fair play," he said.

"I know what they said because they called my club to apologise. They said thanks because I saved one of their players. They apologised because they were saying bad things, like monkey and many other things.

"It's not normal to treat a person as like a monkey - it's incorrect. Football is fair play and I showed them that. Football is not what they are doing with racism. They have to stop it - for me, that's the message."

Kone's heroic actions did not just change the attitudes of some Bohemians fans, he says, but nearly all the people he meets in a country where he has become a local celebrity.

"Now there is more respect because the way they looked at me and treated me before is not the same as the way as they look at me and treat me now. Now there is more friendliness, a better relationship. For them, I am famous."

One of Kone's proudest moments came when he travelled with FC Zbrojovka Brno, who he joined in July, to the Czech capital last month to play at the home of reigning champions Slavia Prague.

"I was warming up and I could hear the fans say 'it's that guy who saved Martin' and after that, they started clapping and chanting 'Francis' - not my fans, but the fans of Slavia," he says with a sense of wonder.

"The feeling made me like 'Oh My God' and I was not concentrating on warming up - I was away - because it was amazing, very amazing."


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