England rugby staff on hand as commentator collapsed

A British sports commentator who was in Auckland to work on the first rugby union Test between New Zealand and England last Saturday may owe his life to the touring side’s medical team, who were on the scene when the broadcaster collapsed with a heart attack just hours before the big game’s kick-off.

Recovering: Martin Gillingham
Recovering: Martin Gillingham

Martin Gillingham is a former Olympic track and field athlete who in a 25-year journalism career has gone from writing on his sport for weekly magazines to becoming a leading columnist and radio presenter in South Africa, to most recently broadcasting on athletics and rugby for Eurosport, the BBC, ITV and Sky Sports.

Following his collapse, 50-year-old Gillingham underwent an operation on Monday to insert stents into an artery, and is recovering in Auckland having been told by doctors that he cannot fly for at least a month (“Fortunately, I am well-insured!”).

“All involved – especially England Rugby, the paramedics and specialists and staff at the Auckland City hospital – were bloody fantastic,” Gillingham said today.

“In the last week I’ve learned I’m not the indestructible being I once thought I was. But what I’ve also discovered is that I have got some of the best friends and colleagues anyone could wish to have.

“I’m almost as overwhelmed by the response to the events of Saturday as I was by whatever it was that hit me on the treadmill that afternoon.”

Gillingham had been on the treadmill in his hotel gym that afternoon. It was perhaps his good fortune that Stuart Lancaster’s squad were using the same gym at the same time prior to what was to be a memorable game.

“It was shortly after they had peeled off and out of the door that the lights went out in my world. I was warming down after having run three or four kilometres. One moment I was jogging and the next I was asleep. No warning, no pain. Unconscious, I was spat out of the back of the treadmill.

“But I’d been lucky. It appears I landed virtually at the feet of the England medical staff who had stayed behind. They raised the alarm and sat over me until the team doctor arrived. He did the essential emergency stuff and the paramedics from Auckland City Hospital were there in just a few minutes.”

Gillingham’s prognosis is good, and his colleagues and friends at the SJA wish him well, hoping he recovers sufficiently that he’ll be able to take part in our annual Golf Day on September 11.


Mon Sep 8: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC – non-members very welcome

Thu Dec 11: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, at the Grand Connaught Rooms