Danny Swanson: The football 'genius' missed by Edinburgh clubs

Danny Swanson overcame a life-threatening heart defect to realise his dream and make it as a top-flight footballer.

THIRTEEN-year-old Danny Swanson had never been so excited.

Sitting in a hospital bed in the Sick Kids recovering from a heart operation, he suddenly caught sight of his heroes: Hibs stars Russell Latapy and Dirk Lehmann.

"Quick," he told his older brother John Paul, "help me get my Hibs top on".

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What Danny didn't know was that his two favourite players had come to the hospital specially to see him, a visit organised by the club and his anxious family, who had feared he might not survive the operation.

The pair stayed for well over an hour chatting to the football-daft teenager about his favourite subject.

Today, 21-year-old Danny still loves nothing better than talking football, apart from playing it – which he does to considerable effect for Hibs' Scottish Premier League rivals Dundee United.

Hailed as one of the most exciting prospects in Scottish football, he looks to have the sporting world at his feet.

It is all such a far cry from those days at the Sick Kids, where the Swansons became familiar faces after Danny had to undergo two major operations to repair a hole in his heart – the first at the age of three. Danny had recovered well after the trauma of that first operation, establishing himself as a minor star on the city's youth football pitches, so it was a huge blow when tests showed he needed a heart bypass.

His family had to contend with the fear that he would never lead a full life, or even worse, not survive the operation.

But the biggest blow to the teenager himself – who had just returned from playing in the prestigious Gothia World Youth Cup in Sweden – was having to temporarily hang up his football boots.

"We thought it had gone, so we were devastated when he still had problems at 12," recalls his mum Catrina, 47. "He found out when he came back from Sweden."

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His dad John, 46, adds: "It's something I'll never forget. It was less than 50 per cent odds he'd survive. I said to the doctor: 'That's my son you're talking about, not a bag of chips'."

Hibs-mad John used to tape all the club's matches and take them in to the Sick Kids for Danny to watch.

"I missed loads of school when I had the bypass," says Danny, as he relaxes at his parents' Ferry Road home.

"But it didn't even cross my mind that I wouldn't be able to still play football. It was just football for me, that was it."

Within a month, he was back on the football pitch, making his mark again.

After first catching the eye of Hutchison Vale, Danny played for Cowdenbeath, Leith Athletic under coach Rab Pagett, and Berwick Rangers, before United came calling.

Danny's skills were always obvious, though he had another hurdle to overcome – he is only 5ft 6in.

"We used to have to sellotape his shorts up because he was so wee," recalls John. "I just think he was a late developer because of all he's been through.

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"Hibs and Rangers said he was too wee and he never got picked for the school teams because of his height. I said to him: 'It's to do with your height not your ability'."

Danny shrugs off his early disappointments, but his dad, a lifelong Hibee, is more forthright: "He's been on Hibs' doorstep for years, but it took a man like Craig Levein to spot a talent."

After signing for United, there was one more crunch to come, before he made his debut on January 2. He had to have a heart scan at Hampden before he could play in the SPL.

"That was the biggest panic I've had," admits John. "We were on the motorway afterwards and Craig Levein rang asking how he'd got on and we said we didn't know. That's when he told us he had passed with flying colours.

"That was a weight off my mind."

The tension was too much for Catrina who stayed in Edinburgh, chain-smoking as she waited anxiously for John's call.

"I didn't go to Hampden because I couldn't handle it. If he hadn't passed the scan he'd have been devastated."

The family clearly share a deep respect for Levein, the ex-Hearts manager who signed Danny for Dundee United from Berwick Rangers last summer.

"He said he'd been watching Danny since he was 14. He's a great manager," says John, words which in any other circumstances might have jarred with such a devoted Hibby.

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It's an admiration reciprocated by Levein, who recently described Danny as the most talented player he'd ever worked with.

It's no small compliment from the ex-Hearts and Leicester boss whose charges have included internationals Paul Hartley, Keith Gillespie and Colin Cameron.

"I was gobsmacked when I heard that," admits Danny, looking slightly abashed. "But obviously I was very happy about it."

These days the former apprentice plumber trains four days a week, goes to the gym in the evenings and is home Wednesdays and weekends to see his family and his girlfriend Holly Drysdale, an 18-year-old dancer, from Trinity.

His enthusiasm for the game shines through whenever he speaks.

"I always wanted to be a professional for as long as I can remember. My dad brought me up to play football, so I always used to play.

"I was always obviously smaller than everyone else, so I thought I'd maybe grow and maybe get there, but it took its time happening. When I was about 16 I thought I had it to be professional.

"It was quite hard when I was in hospital but my mum and dad made it easier and I didn't let it get me down. I just knew I had to get it done."

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What advice would he give other youngsters facing health problems?

"I'd tell them don't let it get in your way, keep going for what you want to go for," says Danny. "Don't let it get you down."

Catrina and John, who owns Gladstones pub on Hill Lane and plays in its over-35 team "the over the mill mob", have always encouraged all their three sons to play football.

John Paul, 24, a kitchen fitter, currently out of football action for Peebles due to a knee injury, is "over the moon" for his brother.

But Louis, 16, who plays for Loanhead, is less keen to take tips from his older sibling.

"Louis thinks he's going right to Man United," smiles John. "He's going to be a good one."


DANNY SWANSON's potential was spotted early by both Hutchison Vale and the Evening News.

Evening News sports writer Ian Mackay described him as a "genius" after watching him play for Leith Athletic in 2004.

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He wrote: "There is something far wrong with the game when a player with the ability of Swanson is allowed to play in under-19 football.

"The boy is a genius, but in line with the pathetic attitude of professional clubs he is not quoted due to his size."

Dad John remembers the day his son was asked to play for the celebrated Hutchison Vale youth side.

"My older son was playing for Hutchy and Tam Smith who was in charge noticed Danny, who was only four-and-a-half, playing at the side.

"They were a player short so asked if he could make up the numbers. Now you have to imagine, he was a midget, but he was brilliant. They couldn't take the ball off him and Tam said to keep bringing him back."