MATT BARLOW: Kevin McDonald makes happy return after kidney transplant

MATT BARLOW: Kidney transplant allows former Premier League star Kevin McDonald to make a happy return to action for Exeter City… PLUS, Arsenal showed class in making Oleksandr Zinchenko captain

  • Kevin McDonald scored on Saturday after returning from a kidney transplant
  • Oleksandr Zinchenko was handed captaincy a year on from Ukraine’s invasion
  • Dennis Bergkamp’s son Mitchel has also scored his first goal in English football

When Kevin McDonald left Fulham under the cover of lockdown in the summer of 2020, there were more urgent priorities than worrying about whether he would ever play professional football again.

His kidneys were failing and he was in urgent need of a transplant, which came 10 months later thanks to a donation from his brother Fraser.

On Saturday, playing for Exeter in League One, McDonald scored his first goal for five years. It is a genuinely heart-warming tale of recovery and resilience and provoked a blur of emotions for the 34-year-old midfielder, little more than a week after the birth of his second daughter.

‘It was always my aim to get back playing,’ he tells Sportsmail, but it has been a complicated process from the very outset, from the moment his body rejected the kidney and for 10 days doctors fought to make it function.

‘When you’re lying in that hospital bed and they’re taking you to surgery and putting the needles in to put you to sleep there are all sorts of things going through your head. 

Kevin McDonald scored for Exeter on Saturday after returning from having a kidney transplant

‘Thankfully, I was in great hands, with so much support from friends and family. I’ll never find the words to describe the love I feel for my brother. There are no words.’

McDonald was diagnosed with kidney disease during routine medical checks when he moved from Dundee to Burnley at 18. He managed the illness through a successful career, but by the time of his transplant, one kidney had stopped working and the other was down to 10 per cent.

A heavy course of medication helped to get the new kidney working and he came out of hospital and into isolation with Covid still rife and that was before he started to get himself fitter and looked for a club.

‘I lost more than 10kg (1st 8lb) and was totally stripped of muscle,’ says McDonald. ‘I stood up, went for a 10-metre walk and I was breathing out of my backside. That was a blow, but, step by step, I got going. Back on to the exercise bike, my first run. Slowly, I built up my fitness.

‘I went back to train at Fulham who were brilliant but pre- season there was horrific, working with the Under 23s. I’d been coaching some of these players in the year before I left and now they were seeing me like this, blowing. There were lots of those little hurdles, physical and mental.’

Clubs he thought might be interested told him they weren’t keen on the risk until he signed a short-term deal at Dundee United last season, and he made a few appearances towards the end of last season. He started this season training at Derby, and there was interest from Huddersfield and Bradford before an injury setback.

‘It’s been frustrating because physically I was good to go,’ says McDonald, who signed a short-term contract at Exeter in January. ‘It’s a really good little club with potential to go where they want to go. It’s been perfect for me.’

His brother Fraser offered his kidney – and now McDonald has returned to professional football

Mitchel Bergkamp, son of Dennis the Arsenal legend and Dutch master, scored his first goal in English football on his first start for Bromley in the National League on Tuesday, beating goalkeeper Will Jaaskelainen, son of former Bolton favourite Jussi, who was making his first start for Woking, who won the game 2-1. 

Apologies to anyone who recalls Dennis scoring past Jussi in March 2004, at Highbury, on the way to the Invincibles title. Yes, it does make you feel old.

When Alan Curbishley found a wallet on the Tube he noticed it belonged to a Walsall season ticket holder so he posted it to the Bescott Stadium with a handwritten note in the hope it could be reunited with its owner, which it was. 

And the owner shared the story on social media and everyone remembered what a lovely fella Curbs is.

Now Charlton plan to link the pair up by Zoom as part of their coverage of tomorrow’s League One game at Peterborough.

Alan Curbishley found a Walsall fan’s wallet on the Tube and posted it to the Bescott Stadium

To mark the centenary of the first Wembley FA Cup final, Bolton, the winners 100 years ago, have booked in for a return in the Papa John’s Trophy final. 

West Ham, losing finalists in 1923, are at Manchester United in the fifth round on Wednesday. Is fate beckoning for David Moyes and the Hammers?

On the day when Graham Potter revealed complaints from senior Chelsea players about last pre-season in the USA, news breaks that they are plotting a summer date with non-League Wrexham on the other side of the Atlantic. 

Expect the Disney Channel to snaffle up the rights. What could go wrong with more Mickey Mouse friendlies?

Arsenal had a well-earned reputation for doing things with a bit of class when I started reporting on London football in 1998. 

This has not always been the case since but it was a lovely touch to make Oleksandr Zinchenko captain to mark a year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Oleksandr Zinchenko was made Arsenal captain a year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Opportunity can be fleeting for elite teenagers when football is so volatile. 

Take Omari Hutchinson, 19, lured from Arsenal to Chelsea on a lucrative contract last summer.

The 19-year-old winger made his Premier League debut at the start of January but was crowded out of contention by the end of the month and a loan to West Bromwich Albion fell through when they opted instead for Marc Albrighton. 

Hutchinson is back in Chelsea’s development squad. They take on Arsenal tonight.

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