• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

'Prof' found humour in all he saw, even Prodan's knee

PROFESSOR Stewart Hillis used to joke that he would love to get his hands on a "retrospectivescope", a piece of kit which would enable doctors to utilise hindsight, right all wrongs and correct all previous misdiagnoses.

FATEFUL EVENT: Hillis, near right, was on the bench the night Jock Stein died. INSET: Hillis in more recent times
FATEFUL EVENT: Hillis, near right, was on the bench the night Jock Stein died. INSET: Hillis in more recent times

In an interview in The Herald four years ago, four years tomorrow to be precise, Hillis laughed about how useful that would have been around the medical episode which briefly made him the butt of a few jokes.

Hillis could laugh about his involvement in the nonsense of Daniel Prodan's Rangers "career" for a couple of reasons. Firstly, his own was a highly distinguished medical career which covered enough real suffering and tragedy to mean it didn't matter that a football club had once signed a Romanian who literally couldn't play.

And secondly Hillis, the man known to many as "The Prof", could find fun and a story out of most things. His death, at just 70, has robbed Scotland of an eminent cardiologist and his friends and family of a warm man and a great raconteur. Jock Stein invited him to become the Scotland team doctor after the 1982 World Cup finals and the pair of them became great pals. Hillis served Sir Alex Ferguson, Andy Roxburgh, Craig Brown, Berti Vogts, Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley and Craig Levein, too. Smith valued him so highly he brought him to Rangers.

For 228 Scotland games, "The Prof" would contribute hugely to the social entertainment once the serious work was done. He was at home with, and highly popular with, football people. In his own words he was "a punter on the bench", a description which illustrated his humility but did a grave disservice to his expertise. An OBE told a different story. Hillis did more than anyone in some of the sadder episodes in Scottish football's modern history.

The two worst player incidents he dealt with were the broken leg Ally McCoist suffered during a World Cup qualifying defeat to Portugal in Lisbon in 1993, and the knee ligament damage which effectively finished John Kennedy's career 11 years later. McCoist had been in intense pain on the flight home until Hillis pulled out some liquid anaesthetic. "That was the time when I managed to find two bottles of Beaujolais in my medical case." No amount of bevvy could help Prodan. Rangers spent £2.2m to get him from Atletico Madrid when he had a knee like a rotten apple. The perception took hold that this was Hillis's fault. In fact, what Rangers did not realise at the time was that they were sent documents which falsified and underplayed the state of Prodan's knee. Sir David Murray was so fixed on rushing the deal through Hillis was not given the time to do the usual checks. "Mr Murray said to me 'there's a press conference in 45 minutes'."

The club he served for the longest was Clydebank but he was better known for his time with Scotland and Rangers. It amused him to point out that he couldn't take the blame for Rangers rejecting John Hartson: he wasn't the club doctor who decided the Welshman was not fit enough to pass a medical.

An inescapable football - and personal - tragedy unfolded before his eyes in Cardiff in 1985. When Stein collapsed near the end of that horribly tense World Cup qualifier against Wales it was Hillis who tried hardest to save his friend's life in a wee medical room in the bowels of Ninian Park. Stein had suffered heart failure. Hillis's desperate attempts failed. "It's a whole lot better now, doc," said Stein before slipping into unconsciousness.

They were his final words and they lived with his friend until his own dying day, which sadly came too soon.

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

249650