Alan McLoughlin: Portsmouth legend talks about cancer battle

Alan McLoughlin is part of Republic of Ireland folklore after scoring the goal that sent them to the 1994 World Cup, but in 2012 his world changed when he was diagnosed with cancer.

His club career included spells at Swindon, Southampton and Portsmouth, where he now coaches.

The Pompey legend, 46, talks to BBC Late Kick Off South, South West and West about his fight against cancer and his life in football.

McLoughlin on cancer

In October 2012, McLoughlin was diagnosed with cancer, before five weeks later having his kidney removed.

"When I went to the toilet and I passed blood, a hell of a lot of blood, the shock was immense. My first thought was to take myself straight to hospital. I drove in my Pompey kit, my wife met me at the hospital in Swindon and we went in.

"When someone says that word to you, 'cancer', the first thought you have is fright and terror. It frightened me. It frightened me more to tell my wife and kids. It frightened me to tell my mum, dad and friends.

"It is something I had to do. I didn't leave anyone out. I remember apologising to the doctor as at the time I felt sorry for him having to break the news to me. I know that sounds ridiculous.

Alan McLoughlin

"It then hits you, the gravity of it. I was told it was a tumour in my kidney and it had to be removed. I wanted it out the next day but they said it would be five or six weeks and that was the worst five or six weeks.

"The support I had from family was massive. From my wife and kids. That inner resolve just to keep battling on, I couldn't stop it, I couldn't control it, I didn't know I was ill until I passed blood and there was nothing I could do about it. I was thankful I did pass blood because it made me aware of it. I did have some low moments over those five weeks. It was a difficult time.

"When they take the kidney away, they say they think they've got it all out. Even now there is a question mark and I have to live with that, but I feel optimistic. The scans are clear and you move forward and that's what you've got to do.

"You've got to take things head on and the one thing I don't want is sympathy. I said that right from the off and I don't want people to feel uncomfortable around me. You just take it on the chin and carry on the battle.

"I implore anyone who is out there who has similar symptoms or passes blood. Don't sit through the pain, take yourself to your GP or off to hospital and get yourself checked out. It could save your life. Me doing that saved my life."

McLoughlin on Portsmouth

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I remember being in the tunnel at Fratton Park when I was at Swindon. There is something about the place that sucked me in

McLoughlin made his name at Swindon, scoring the winning goal in the 1989-90 Second Division play-off final against Sunderland. It tempted Southampton to pay £1m for the midfielder in 1990, before Portsmouth came calling two years later.

"I remember being in the tunnel at Fratton Park when I was still at Swindon. There is something about the place that sucked me in.

"The first time I walked out at Fratton Park as a Pompey player I got roundly booed for 20 minutes. I was called every name under the sun for 20 minutes, quite rightly so, because I'd come from Southampton, the enemy. I got booed until I set up Chris Burns to put one in, then I set up a lovely goal in the top corner.

"Suddenly they were all cheering me. It took a good year before that booing waned. Fans don't forget and to this day there are probably one or two who don't accept me as a Portsmouth player because I came from Southampton. It is what it is."

McLoughlin on his work ethic

McLoughlin began his career at Manchester United as a trainee but failed to make the grade at Old Trafford and moved to Swindon in 1986. While he is fondly remembered at Fratton Park, he is considered a legend in Ireland, for whom he won 42 caps, and scored the 1993 goal against Northern Ireland that sent them to the World Cup in the United States.

Alan McLoughlin

"I played football not wanting to let anyone down. Myself, my family, the fans. That for me was first. I did not want to go out there and make an idiot of myself and make an error or miss a chance or not work hard. I had a good work ethic.

"I was mentally strong from my time at Manchester United - mentally strong through moving away from home - and all those things made me the player I was. I was not the greatest player who played the game, but I'm proud that when I speak to people they say 'oh yeah you were a decent player'.

"I gave my all, wore my heart on my sleeve and never hid on the pitch."

McLoughlin on coaching

'Macca', as he is affectionately known at Fratton Park, now works as a coach at the club - and has had various roles with the academy and first team.

"To try to give information to the players at times can be frustrating, at times can be fulfilling and rewarding - which you want it to be.

"At times you scratch your head and ask 'are they taking on board what you are saying?' But in the main, what I've tried to say and do has helped. I try to work on an individual basis. I'm not the manager, I'm here to facilitate and make things tick over.

"I really enjoy the role; it's challenging. I've been back here three years now. I was with the academy which was very rewarding so I've had a broad spectrum of coaching which has been great."

Watch the full feature on Monday's Late Kick Off South, South West and West, BBC One, 23:20 GMT.