'I was taking calls as the anaesthetist was about to put me under': Hibs manager Lee Johnson opens up on the pain and the uncertainty that marred transfer deadline day

Lee Johnson’s recent medical issues came at the worst possible time, with the Hibs manager admitting he wasn’t sure which players he had actually signed when he woke up from a four-hour deadline-day operation.

In excruciating pain for days, he put off seeking the right medical help as he focused on the need to strengthen the squad before the summer transfer window closed and, luckily, a lot of the ground work had been done by the time he went under the knife for a gall bladder operation. That allowed the club to complete deals to bring in Harry McKirdy, Will Fish and Mykola Kukharevych without him.

Back at work and looking forward to Saturday’s league match against Aberdeen, Johnson concedes that it was far from ideal, though.

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“I was literally in my office curled up in a ball because I was in agony; someone would knock on the door and I’d act like I was all right and as soon as they’d gone I’d go back to curling up in a ball in agony again.

Hibs manager Lee Johnson oversees training. Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group
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“But you just do it. It’s so important to me and to everyone else. You just keep trying to do your job.

“I couldn’t have timed it any worse with that week though - I was taking calls as the anaesthetist was about to put me under and I’m making decisions on Harry McKirdy.

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“In one sense you want to say, ‘f*** off, I’m in agony here’ but in another sense you know it’s important. The funniest thing was when I came round after the four-hour operation, I made three phone calls to find out what had gone on, and then I made the same three phone calls because I completely forgot I’d made them.

“In that sense it’s quite comical but it was difficult for the guys because when you’ve got a leader who makes decisions like that, and all of a sudden someone else has to make the decision, it’s not easy.

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“Ben Kensell and Ian Gordon did really well and the coaching staff all mucked in.

“Will Fish was a good example. I can’t remember if I did or didn’t sign him. Apparently I did, but I couldn’t remember because I’d just come out of theatre.

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“It was a four hour op. Normally that’s a one hour op but I had a perforated and infected gall bladder and there were gall stones in there too.

“I really should have been in A&E days earlier.”

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Full of praise for NHS staff, he says he was happy that the surgeon spared him any concern by remaining neutral but was amused by the nursing staff who were more upfront about their allegiances.

Forced to miss out the game against Kilmarnock as he recuperated, he was in constant contact with the coaches as he watched on tv but was frustrated by a 45-second delay. The three points were a better pick-me-up than a bunch of grapes but victory in his absence means that not everyone was keen to welcome him back.

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Martin Boyle said ‘gaffer, I’m superstitious so can you not come next week as well!’. Lovely, eh? I brought him back from the desert, played him in every game and I’ve lost an organ and he’s chucking that at me. That’s ruthless banter.”

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