Tom Lockyer has spoken for the first time about his “day of mixed emotions” at Wembley, and thanked medical staff, fans, manager Rob Edwards and his team-mates for making his five-day hospital stay bearable.
The Wales international centre-half collapsed in the eighth minute of the Championship play-off final victory over Coventry City, and had to be carried off on a stretcher before being taken to the Cleveland Clinic in London, where he underwent a heart procedure last Wednesday.
Yesterday he was given the all-clear when results of the operation and several days of tests were returned to him, and he told lutontown.co.uk: “I had an atrial fibrillation, which is basically the top part of my heart was beating four times faster than it should have been. There’s not really any reason to say why that happened, but I’ve had the operation to fix it and it shouldn’t happen again.
“I’ve been given the all clear, it is what it is and I just want to draw a line under it now and move on.”
Before heading off on a well-deserved holiday with his partner, Taylor, the 28-year-old added: “The doctor’s orders now are two weeks’ rest without raising the heart rate, then I’m good to go, so it’s going to be a two-week holiday somewhere just chilling out, eating some good food and just taking everything in, because for me it hasn’t really sunk in what we’ve achieved, because I wasn’t there and I didn’t make the Vegas trip with all the lads.
“So now we can get away and hopefully it sinks in when we’re away. That’ll be really nice.”
Despite being unconscious for a short time on the pitch, the six-time player of the year and Championship Team of the Year member can recall exactly what happened before his afternoon was cut short.
“It was a day of mixed emotions,” he says. “It was crazy. All week I’d been visualising walking up those steps to that trophy and to end it in a hospital bed is not quite what I had in mind, but I was immensely proud to lead the lads out at Wembley – more so than I am normally because of the occasion and it was a massive honour for me and my family. That’s probably my only pic of the day, leading the lads out!
“I’m just really thankful that the lads were able to get the job done and we were able to complete our goal of getting promoted. It made those five days in hospital after a lot easier. I think if we had lost, those five days would have been horrendous, but they made it a lot smoother for me.”
On the incident itself, he explained: “It was a weird one. I remember running backwards, and then I went really light-headed and my legs went really weak straightaway, as I was running back. I remember stumbling back and then all I remember was (physio) Chris Phillips over the top of me, and he was saying ‘Locks, you’re coming off’.
“I was like ‘No mate, no mate, I’m fine’, but he was saying ‘No, it’s serious Locks, you’ve collapsed. You’re coming off’. Then it dawned on me that I was on the floor and this is actually serious. It was then that, because I felt fine as soon as I woke up, I instantly just went ‘Oh no, this is the end of my game’ and had the feeling of letting the boys down. I just got really emotional. I couldn’t stop crying on the floor.
“They were doing whatever they were doing – and to be honest, even then at the time I felt that I could have got up and walked off, but the medics have to do their job and a massive shout out to them. They were, and have been fantastic. I can’t thank them all enough for what they did for me.
“It was probably a lot worse for everyone else watching than it was for me because as soon as I came back round I was fine. I never really felt in any danger, and it definitely wasn’t as bad as it looked.”
After the initial tears, and being reunited with Taylor and his parents, Locks could even find time to celebrate Jordan Clark’s opening goal.
“I was in the medical room at Wembley, under the stadium, and I couldn’t stop crying in there but it was funny, because it was like a communal room and they kept wheeling in drunk fans next to me!
“We were in there and didn’t hear a cheer or anything, then all I heard was someone shout, ‘Tell him we’re 1-0 up, Jordan Clark!’ So then I was over the moon with that, and couldn’t stop celebrating and smiling.
“Then (secretary) Chris Clark came down then and got my phone for me, so I started watching it on Sky Go and carried on in the ambulance. We got to the hospital for extra-time, and my old man decided for those penalties then to take the photo of the winning penalty and post it out to let everyone know I was all right, so that’s a nice moment we’ve got all together now, that photo.”
It was during his live TV interview on Sky that manager Edwards, already clearly upset after being told the full extent of his matchday captain’s situation, was in tears after being shown Steve Lockyer’s tweet that went viral.
“We were watching the interview with Rob at the time, and it made my mum cry saying what a lovely bloke he is. I just said to her ‘Yes, he is amazing, he’s been amazing and you can see what a genuine person he is as well.’ He’s not just an unbelievable manager, but you can tell the ethos he has about family first always, and we have created a family. Luton Town is a family now. It was amazing to see.”
Despite joking that the only photos of him on the day were from before the game, his number four shirt certainly got plenty of attention as his team-mates held it aloft during the celebrations.
“It was the best I’ve looked!” he laughed. “It was really nice to see all the lads having such a good time, which they all thoroughly deserved because it’s been a long hard season. When I was watching that, I was obviously delighted but so sad at the same time that after 50-odd games in a season, it all comes down to this one massive game and I don’t play a part in it, and I don’t get to enjoy the celebrations afterwards. So it was a hard watch if I’m being honest, but so delighted that the lads could get the job done. It made it so much better for me.”
On the supporters, who chanted his name at Wembley and did so again when 20,000 lined the streets of Luton and St George’s Square for the town centre celebrations two days later, Lockyer had this to say.
“I watched the parade on BBC News from my hospital bed and that was really touching as well, and what a turnout they had. It was incredible and amazing to see so many fans turn up for the boys, because we have created that special bond between the fans and the players, and that has definitely helped us all season. The supporters have been our 12th man when we’ve needed them, so it was incredible to see, and I am so grateful for all the support and lovely messages I’ve had since.
“Reading them all on social media kept me going in hospital, so thank you to everyone, it’s been amazing.”
There was one other special moment for Lockyer, when he went back to the Brache to get his car last Thursday after being discharged from hospital.
“My car was still at the training ground from when we travelled down to Wembley, so I went to go and get it and I saw Big Mick’s car in there, so I went in and they were having a recruitment meeting upstairs. I went up and saw him, and it was a really nice moment, a special moment that we shared.
“He said he was really surprised at how well I was doing, and obviously when people mention hearts and have seen what happened, and I said I’d had a little operation, people think the worst, don’t they? But I said I was fine, and he said it was so great to see me doing so well and it reassured him.
“I think it was worse for everyone else not knowing, but when he saw me he said it put all his nerves at ease.
"I've had my full heart checked and double checked with all the scans and tests they can do on a heart, and they've all come back positive.
"Now I’ve had the all-clear, I just want to draw a line under it, and get back to normal, but having been through this unexplained experience and all the tests, I would recommend to everyone that if you suffer any rapid irregular heartbeat, chest pain, dizziness or shortness of breath, that you seek medical advice and get checked out."