Big interview: Hearts’ John Souttar reveals memory loss after head injury

John Souttar thought he was stretchered off on Scotland Under-21 duty, but this image confirmed to him that he walked off despite his head knock. Pic: SNS
John Souttar thought he was stretchered off on Scotland Under-21 duty, but this image confirmed to him that he walked off despite his head knock. Pic: SNS
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John Souttar today laid bare the full extent of his recent concussion injury by revealing he suffered memory loss and dizziness.

The Hearts defender returned to action last weekend against Hamilton, insists he is now 100 per cent and won’t shirk any physical duel against Motherwell tomorrow.

Souttar feels Hearts played well against Hamilton last weekend. Pic: SNS

Souttar feels Hearts played well against Hamilton last weekend. Pic: SNS

A head injury sustained in a European Under-21 Championship qualifier for Scotland against Latvia in Perth last month left the centre-back so badly concussed that he spent the night in a Dundee hospital. He didn’t play for almost a month after suffering dizziness during an attempted return to training at Riccarton.

Speaking for the first time about the trauma, Souttar told the Evening News he barely remembers anything about that international match and even believed he was stretchered up the tunnel until he saw photos of himself walking off the pitch.

“I went up for a header, won the ball and the big Latvian boy headered me right on my forehead,” explained the player nicknamed Soapy. “I can’t really remember the game at all, nothing. Then I was in hospital and woke up. It was mental. I was in hospital overnight.

“One of the [SFA] doctors drove me there. I thought I’d been stretchered off but I’ve since seen pictures of me walking off the pitch. I just remember the lights going off in the first half and the rest is just an absolute blur.

“I remember being in the car going to the hospital and I remember after that but I’ve got no recollection of the game. It was weird because I’ve never felt like that before. I’ve had bad head knocks but I’ve never been in a state where I couldn’t remember a game at all. It was a bit scary.

“Concussion is a ten-day recovery. I tried to come back and do some running a couple of weeks ago. We were doing jogging and I was fine, then we started on short and sharp sprints. I felt terrible right away. As soon as you feel like that you have to step out, which sets you back.

“Unfortunately I missed the Partick Thistle and Ross County games but I was fine against Hamilton. You just can’t take any chances with your head because it’s your brain at risk.”

Souttar had to convince the Hearts medical staff he was suffering no ill-effects before he was allowed to train.

“Head injuries are quite a big thing now. In the past it maybe wasn’t but with the things that have happened involving people’s heads, a lot of research has gone into it. There is a protocol now.

“The doctors here were very good, Karen [Gibson] and Raj [Routray]. They had a plan I had to follow step-by-step. The day after the Under-21 game, they were on the phone asking what my symptoms were. There was a big list and I had to tell them every day what I felt. Until the list was empty, I couldn’t train or play. Once there was nothing I was feeling normal again.”

Facing uncompromising characters like Motherwell forwards Ryan Bowman and Louis Moult would daunt others just back from such a serious head injury. Souttar, though, is right up for more aerial battles with the Ladbrokes Premiership’s finest.

“I feel 100 per cent so I’m not hesitant at all. It was a bad head knock but it wasn’t one that’s going to affect me in the future. I’ll be ready to match the Motherwell boys on Saturday.

“Motherwell have been the surprise package in the league. They’ve got great attributes to their team but we have to match them and play our own game.”

The Fir Park side have been tagged as one of the league’s most robust teams this season under manager Steve Robinson. “I don’t think they were too physical when they played us,” said Souttar. “You can see they’ve got a good team spirit. Sometimes when everyone’s calling you physical, it’s a good thing because it gets everyone together. You think everybody is against you and you develop that siege mentality.”

That feeling is familiar to Hearts after last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Hamilton – during which they had full-back Jamie Brandon, manager Craig Levein and assistant coach Austin MacPhee all sent off. Souttar underlined the need to start converting draws into victories, starting tomorrow.

“Jamie’s sending off was a hard one for us to take and I thought we were playing quite well up until that point,” said Souttar. “It’s difficult with ten men, you need to sit a bit deeper. We maybe could have sneaked it with Jamie Walker’s set-piece.

“We hung on slightly towards the end, although we looked a wee bit dangerous on the break. We just need to turn these draws into wins now.

“We’ve drawn the last three games and we were so close to getting nine points instead of three. We need to start winning games.

“That’s the frustrating thing for everyone – we are within touching distance of winning these matches. We’re just hoping it comes this weekend and we can go on a run.

“We were second in December last year and finished fifth. That shows you how quickly things can change. Hopefully this year we can do that in the opposite way.

“Everything is finally settling down with the manager in place and being back at Tynecastle, that can give us a bit of consistency. When we start winning, the crowd will back us and Tynecastle will become a difficult place for other teams to visit.”