Former England defender, Gary Mabbutt MBE, received an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Health) from the University of Bath on Thursday in recognition of his distinguished playing career and tireless campaigning efforts on behalf of diabetes charities.

Having made his debut for Bristol Rovers in 1979, Mabbutt’s impressive performances soon attracted the attention of bigger clubs. In 1982, he transferred to Tottenham Hotspur and his international debut for England followed later that year. As Spurs captain for 11 years he played in over 600 games, winning both the UEFA and FA Cups in 1984 and 1991 respectively. He remains one of the club’s longest serving players.

Success on and off the field

Such impressive professional sporting achievements are even more remarkable, given his a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes aged just 17. At this point Gary’s professional career hung in the balance, but his success both on and off the field serves as a reminder that diabetes need not act as a barrier, even when it comes to competing at the highest level of sport.

Since retirement from the game, Gary has maintained his sporting connections, serving as an ambassador for the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa as well as an Ambassador for Tottenham Hotspur and the English Football Association. He has also thrown himself into campaigning on behalf of Diabetes UK, as Vice-President, and as an Ambassador for The Prince’s Trust.

Commenting on his Honorary Degree he said: "I am honoured to be receiving a Doctorate from the University of Bath. The belief and values of this University are some which I hold close to my heart and I am proud to be associated with them from here on out."

Raising awareness of diabetes

Professor Stephen Ward, Head of the University of Bath’s Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology, added: "Gary Mabbutt’s tireless work as a public voice for raising awareness of diabetes, breaking down barriers and perceptions and living with its consequences over several decades are strongly aligned with the University’s training of health-care professionals such as pharmacists, as well as extensive diabetes-related research programmes performed across several departments. It is therefore entirely appropriate that his work and commitment should be recognized by the University of Bath with an honorary degree.”

University researchers from the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology are currently leading on breakthrough technology that could revolutionise diabetes monitoring through a non-invasive, adhesive patch.

A true inspiration

Many who have known and worked with Gary have also been keen to share their stories about how Gary’s work has influenced them.

Five-time gold medal winning Olympic legend Sir Steve Redgrave said: “I know from first-hand experience the dedication and application required to pursue a career in top-level sport while living with diabetes. So for Gary to have played so many games for Tottenham Hotspur and England after being diagnosed aged 17 is nothing short of remarkable. I congratulate him not only on this Honorary Degree but his many years as a great ambassador and inspiration for all those in the diabetes community.”

Ben Coker, Southend United captain added: “When I was diagnosed with diabetes, my first question was ‘Can I play football on Saturday?’ But growing up and knowing about Gary Mabbutt made me realise that I probably could. Nowadays there are a few pro footballers with Type 1 diabetes but Gary has been an inspiration for so many of us over the years. I’m very glad to see he’s being honoured like this.”

Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, explained: “Gary Mabbutt has long been a supporter of Diabetes UK’s work and his commitment to helping people with diabetes predates even the Premier League. For decades, he has been tireless in his commitment to helping others with the condition, from discussing the complications which can arise to lighting up Wembley Stadium blue to promote World Diabetes Day. We are all delighted our Honorary Vice President is being recognised in this way.”