‘It is nice to be a footballer again’ - Former Hull City, Barnsley and now Rotherham United defender Angus MacDonald recounts ‘whirlwind’ year after beating cancer

LAST Sunday was no ordinary one for Angus MacDonald.

PERSONAL BATTLE: It has been just over a year ince Angus MacDonald was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

It marked the first anniversary of the day when his world turned upside down after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was a day neither he nor his loved ones will ever forget.

On August 23, 2019, MacDonald drove 300 miles from Plymouth to Sheffield to receive the devastating news.

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Forget battling to find a club or to secure a first-team place, this was a fight which was far more consequential and on a totally different level.

It made a mockery of Bill Shankly’s adage of football being more important than life and death.

Mercifully, MacDonald has triumphed in his personal duel of such magnitude. Now in the colours of Rotherham United, the 27-year-old – like all footballers – is counting down the days until the start of the new season.

It is a far cry from 12 months ago, when his early-season schedule revolved around hospital appointments.

Last autumn was particularly tough, with MacDonald undergoing two operations. In October, his entire large bowel was removed and he was fitted with a colostomy bag for eight weeks.

HEAD ON IT: Angus MacDonald in action for Barnsley. Picture: Steve Ellis

Surgery for a second time then ultimately determined whether he would be able to continue life as a footballer.

Then just days before Christmas he received the best gift possible – the all clear.

So began his journey back to the day job.

But last Sunday was a time for reflection.

RETURN: Angus MacDonald returned to the Hull City side for the final part of the prolonged 2019-20 Championship season. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post this week, MacDonald said: “I was diagnosed a year last Sunday and it has been a whirlwind of a year. It was nice to sit and reflect on it all.

“That day will stick with me forever. It was a dark day and one we went through with a lot of people alongside me and we got through it in the end.

“To be honest, from the minute I found out, I put football to the side.

“I missed it, but at the same time when people say: ‘football is not everything, as long as you are healthy’, it hit me then that it is very true.

“So I actually put football to the side and did not think about it for a few months.

“I do not think it ever really sunk in. I was speaking to someone the other day about it and even to this day, I do not think it has sunk in, in terms of what I have been through and coming out on the other side.

“I know it is not a nice thing to have and hear, but I had a relatively good experience of it. My operations went really well and I was clear of it quite quickly. It was a dark period, but probably not as bad as some go through.”

On whether his experiences have changed him as a person, he added: “A little bit. I never take anything too seriously (now) and it is a blessing to be healthy and doing what I am doing. My family and friends were there every step of the way and for me to get back to normal is a blessing for them as well as for me.”

The normality that MacDonald craved began in earnest when he returned to the fold for first-team training at Hull’s training ground in Cottingham in January.

He was soon back in it and among the banter and life started to resume a semblance of normality – before Covid-19.

Football was put on hold across the country before finally restarting in June, with June 20 being a milestone one for MacDonald when he made his first Hull appearance in 672 days – 22 months – against Charlton Athletic at a deserted KCOM Stadium.

In the previous 2018-19 campaign, a blood clot in his calf – which caused deep vein thrombosis – saw MacDonald make just three appearances. Luckless is the phrase.

A more serious battle would transpire and he would have been forgiven for thinking that his time at Hull was cursed.

Yet throughout that period, the support from Hull remained steadfast. The backing from the wider football community – MacDonald was guest of honour at former club Barnsley when they hosted the Tigers last November – helped keep his spirits up as well.

Manchester United and Arsenal were among clubs who sent statements of support and he was inundated with texts and tweets from players and fans.

It showcased the game at its best and his first-team return struck a chord not just in East Yorkshire.

MacDonald said: “It was nice to get around the lads and they welcomed me back with open arms and it made life a little bit easier.

“The Charlton game was not as I thought it would be without the fans, but it probably made my job a little bit easier as I was not as nervous, as weird as it sounds, without the fans being there. I concentrated on the job a bit more and did not get carried away with the occasion.”

Professionally, MacDonald’s time at Hull ended in sadness by way of the club’s relegation to the third tier, with the centre-back electing to head to Rotherham for a new challenge at the end of his deal with City.

Through no fault of his own, his spell on the pitch at Hull was blighted. Off it, it was enriched by the support of those at the club who helped him through the toughest time in his life.

He said: “It is a time I will not forget. I wish it was a bit different due to injury and illness. But that aside, I enjoyed my time there and made a lot of friends who I am sure I will keep in touch with.

“With some of the people there, I have a lot to thank for in terms of being where I am now.

“I really do hope they bounce back this time and get back to where they do belong as they really do not deserve to be down in League One.

“Fingers crossed, there are a great group of lads there and set of coaches and, hopefully, they can pull together and get back to where they belong.”

MacDonald’s route now takes him to Rotherham, a family club where the bonds are strong.

At the heart of it all is a manager who invests in people in Paul Warne. Someone who has always cared about the person as well as the player.

MacDonald said: “He is a top bloke. He is a very positive guy and has made it very clear from minute one that if I need anything – on the pitch or off it – that he is there.

“It is nice to have that support. Especially after everything I have been through, I just needed a fresh start with positivity and it is certainly what I have got.

“There were a few different options in a few different leagues and a couple abroad. But it felt good to stay in the Championship under such a positive manager and team around him.

“It is nice to be a footballer again and not have all the time out. As much as it helped me having that time off with loved ones, family and friends, it is nice to be normal again.”

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Thank you

James Mitchinson