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Gary Mabbutt MBE: oration

Read Professor Stephen Ward's oration on Gary Mabbutt for the honorary degree of Doctor of Health in July 2018.


Gary Mabbutt MBE
Gary Mabbutt MBE

Gary Mabbutt is an English former professional footballer, playing initially for Bristol Rovers having made his debut in 1979. His performances soon attracted the attention of bigger clubs and Gary transferred to Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 1982. International recognition soon followed, when he made his full England debut later that year.

At Tottenham, he was Club Captain for eleven years. With this club, he won the UEFA Cup in 1984 and the FA Cup in 1991 (as captain), as well as a runner’s-up medal in the 1987 FA Cup Final. In total, he played over six hundred games, scoring more than thirty goals for Spurs, and he remains one of the club’s longest serving players. He appeared sixteen times for England and made several other appearances for the England U21’s and England B. In 1993, his reputation as a model sporting professional was further cemented when he was an awarded an MBE for services to sport.

His impressive professional sporting achievements are even more remarkable, given that they were made while living with type 1 diabetes. Having been diagnosed with the condition at the age of seventeen, no one could tell him whether or not he could pursue his dream of being a professional footballer. His subsequent footballing successes were not without setbacks, as he was almost a guinea pig as far as diabetes and regular hard physical exercise are concerned. However, history reveals that diabetes did not stop him from enjoying almost twenty years at the highest level of sport.

While a few others had carved out successful sporting careers, successful diabetic athletes were not generally front- (or even back-) page news. However, Gary’s amiable personality and media coverage of his diabetes and his sporting achievements meant that he soon became a public face of the condition. He once famously appeared on Blue Peter, where he demonstrated injecting insulin into an orange to show how he dealt with his condition on a daily basis. Gary’s determination to make it as a professional footballer must surely have been the inspiration for others to understand and manage their condition and even to pursue normal sporting activities. The message that he shares with those with the same condition is that ‘no matter what you want to do in life diabetes will not stop you. Do not live your life round diabetes; let it live round you.’

Since his retirement, 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.

However, perhaps Gary’s most important legacy is his hard work to raise awareness of diabetes and to be an inspiration for others in how to live with the condition. He is Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and Honorary Vice-President of Diabetes UK. He notably headed Diabetes UK’s Putting Feet First campaign to highlight the dangers of foot issues for people with the condition and cut the amputation rate by half. For decades, Gary has made regular public appearances for the charity to campaign for greater awareness especially within sport and annually leads their coverage for World Diabetes Day. Many children and their parents still write to Gary for advice and encouragement.

Gary Mabbutt’s work as a public voice for raising awareness of diabetes, breaking down many barriers and perceptions and living with its consequences over several decades, has surely inspired other diabetics to succeed in various walks of life in spite of their condition.

Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Gary Mabbutt MBE who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Health, honoris causa.

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