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Nisbet reflects on a season of challenges both on and off the field

Having been placed on furlough from his role as a coach for Maidenhead United’s Magpies in the Community scheme, Mark Nisbet has had a fair bit of time to reflect on a season that’s brought its fair share of challenges.

The current coronavirus pandemic is just the latest in a series of hurdles he’s had to overcome, but he acknowledges his situation could be much, much worse.

Nisbet’s challenges began just under a year ago when he was diagnosed with an irregular heart rhythm after returning from summer holiday to resume pre-season training with Slough Town. After short sprints his heartbeat was racing, bringing on faintness and dizzy spells.

A corrective procedure ‘zapped’ the heart back into its normal rhythm, but the road back to recovery hasn’t been smooth. Nisbet now hopes he’s over the issue once and for all, however, he knows that if the problem was to return his playing career could be over much sooner than he’d like it to be.

“It was a weird time,” he says. “They zapped my heart back into its normal rhythm and everything worked fine for about six to eight weeks.

“Then, I was back in training again and I went for a sprint and I just felt that I couldn’t breath. It was like ‘here we go again!’.

“I just knew it was the same thing that had happened before because the symptoms were the same. I felt really dizzy, like I’d been on a 20 mile run but I’d only done a 10 yard sprint. Luckily I had a doctor’s appointment the following morning and they put my on a waiting list for another cardio inversion (the corrective procedure). And they also put me up for an ablation, which is a much bigger operation.

“For that they’d have to go into my heart and cut away and burn some stuff. It’s a bigger operation and there’s more of a risk. That was in the middle of November and I was going to have to wait until January and February to get it done. But I kept training, just doing some light jogging and I spoke to Bakes (joint manager Neil Baker) and told him I felt absolutely fine.

“I went back to the doctors for a check up and they told me that my heart was back in rhythm.”

Nisbet then returned to the Rebels’ first team fold for the second time this season, only for a bad knee injury to force him onto the sidelines once more at the start of the year. He made his return in February, and played three or four games in the side’s play-off quest before COVID-19 led to all matches being postponed, and then – late last month – the season being called off.

It’s now down to the National League board, in consultation with its clubs, to decide how to determine matters like promotion and relegation. At the time of going to press the clubs were being consulted on the feasibility of potentially playing play-off matches, something that Nisbet is in favour of, but can’t see happening from a practical point of view.

He hopes that when football does eventually return he can continue playing for Slough Town for at least another couple of seasons, but that will depend very much on his health.

“My heart has been fine ever since it had its two week blip,” he said. “I don’t think about it happening again. If it happens, it happens. But I’ve just got to get myself into the best possible shape to play football again. There will be nothing I can do about it if it does happen. I’ll just have to see the doctors and have this operation.

“Fingers crossed it was just a little blip, because If I need to have another operation, the waiting list will be massive. Because of coronavirus they’ll be cancelling everything that’s not an emergency, and, because my day-to-day life if fine, I wouldn’t be a priority case. So I probably wouldn’t get an operation for a year. I’m 33 now, add a year to that, and then a minimum of two months recovery time after that. I believe I can play at this level for another two years, but touch wood I don’t get any more heart issues, because if it were to go again that would probably be the end of it.”

The coronavirus has just brought an unsatisfactory season – from a personal point of view – to an unsettling conclusion. And it’s the not knowing what might happen or when social distancing sanctions might be lifted that’s most concerning Nisbet.

“I think it just sums up the year I’ve had with my injuries and heart problems,” he continues.

“It’s just been a bad end to a bad season. I just want it to be done and dusted now so we can start over again. But there’s no date or time for that. The not knowing is the worst part of it. Even if they said the season was going to start again next January, we could plan and organise for that.

“They’re still talking about the play-offs (as a possibility) but I think that’s very doubtful. Because you’ve got players who haven’t been doing much for a number of weeks. Some will but others won’t. Luckily I had played three or four games and had some training before all of this. I’d got myself fit again. This (break) has given me the chance to rest my injured knee properly and strengthen the rest of my body.”

Nisbet doesn’t envy the league’s decision makers because he’s conflicted over how matters should be determined. And with clubs in all leagues at logger heads over what should be done next, he’s not the only one.

“I don’t think the play-offs are going to happen,” he said. “It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense to do them when the season hasn’t finished. If the games had been completed then it would have made sense. Unfortunately what makes sense is voiding the season. But that’s harsh on Wealdstone in our league who were flying at the top. But, at the same time, how can you relegate clubs in the bottom three when they’ve still got seven matches left to play. There are no right or wrong answers. It’s like being a referee, you make a decision and you know you’re going to annoy someone.

“I don’t think they’ll play the play-offs. Don’t get me wrong, I would be happy if they did, because we’d have a shot at promotion, but we could have lost our final five matches and fallen out of the play-off positions.”

Nisbet’s day to day job sees him coaching kids in schools and after-school sessions for Maidenhead United’s Magpies in the Community scheme. With the club having drastically reduced its operations because of the pandemic, he, like most others at the club, has been placed on furlough leave. With some spare time on his hands he’s been volunteering to help the more vulnerable in the area through the club’s community support and helpline initiative. While he’s also been keeping tabs on some of the hundreds of children who benefit from the Magpies’ junior coaching courses.

“I’ve been put on furlough,” he added. “Everyone has. We’re volunteering to help out with the initiative the club are running and we’ve also been doing some volunteering work in schools, helping out the kids of key workers. But we’re not doing too much. We’re trying to do little bits and pieces where we can.

“We’ve also done a few bits on social media. Fitness and football videos for our YouTube channel. The parents have been sending in videos of their kids doing different challenges and we’ve been posting them on YouTube and Facebook. We haven’t pushed it too much but we’re trying to engage where we can.”

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