There are better-known Togolese players than Francis Kone, though none who have earned more recognition than he in recent times. Messages of gratitude have been coming his way in great number since 25 February, when the forward saved the life of a fellow player on the field of play, a truly extraordinary act that has earned him great praise.
His heroics came a little after the half-hour mark in the Czech league match between Bohemians 1905 of Prague and FC Slovacko, on Matchday 18 of the competition. Venturing off his line to clear a long ball, Bohemians Martin Berkovec inadvertently clashed heads with team-mate Daniel Krch, with both players falling to the ground. Berkovec came off worse and lay unconscious, with opposing striker Francis Kone immediately coming to his aid.
“I can’t stand there, watching someone suffocate, without doing something. I just can’t,” Kone told FIFA.com. “I didn’t even think about it.”
Kone promptly prised the stricken Berkovec’s teeth apart and then pulled his tongue back to prevent him swallowing it. “I’m no doctor and I don’t have a first aid certificate,” he said, “but I do know what to do in a situation like that.” There can be no arguing about that, given that Berkovec is the fourth player to have had their life saved by Kone on the pitch.
Francis Kone factfile
– Born on 29 November 1990 in Bondoukou (Côte d’Ivoire) to a Togolese mother
– Height: 6’2 (1.89m)
– Trained at Bibo youth academy in Abidjan
– Professional career: FC San Pedro (Côte d’Ivoire), Muangthong United FC (Thailand), PTT Rayong FC (Thailand), Al-Musannah SC (Oman), SC Olhanense (Portugal), Budapest Honved (Hungary), FC Slovacko (Czech Republic)
– Two appearances for Togo
“It might seem incredible but it happened to me once in Thailand and twice in Côte d’Ivoire,” he explained. “I didn’t think too much about it the first time but now that it’s happened a second, third and a fourth time, it’s starting to get a bit much. The second time was traumatic for me because I could really feel the player slipping away.”
An accidental hero
Coming in a televised Czech league match, his latest life-saving intervention has attracted the most media coverage of all, with footage of the incident being viewed around the world and Kone being hailed as a hero. He does not see himself as one, however: “Only God can be a hero. It was down to him that I was able to save that man.”
Kone has been in great demand ever since, for interviews, awards ceremonies and the like. “It feels like I’m a star,” he said. “I get recognised in the street, asked for my autograph and for photos. I’ve been invited to dinners and I’ve been given awards, though I have to say that what I did on the pitch just seems normal to me.”
Happy to list his four out-of-the-ordinary deeds among the highlights of his career to date, Kone is also proud of the international caps he has won for Togo. “I’ve played twice for the Sparrowhawks and I’m working hard to try and get another call-up. My ultimate dream is to play alongside Emmanuel Adebayor. He’s my role model.”
What Kone does not realise, perhaps, is that he too is now a role model for many, many people around the world.