“There’s absolutely nothing in the way that should prevent you from becoming a professional footballer. I haven’t let diabetes get in my way, so you shouldn’t let it get in yours.”
That is the advice of Jack Muldoon who, at the age of 33, is performing as well as ever – some would say against the odds.
As a 12-year-old, the Harrogate Town frontman experienced symptoms of chronically high blood sugar levels and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. He remembers the time vividly.
“I was away on a school trip and when I came back and got off the bus, my mum noticed that I had lost a lot of weight and I had really pale skin,” he recalls.
“My dad’s got diabetes, so she had an inkling straight away. She took me to hospital and a couple of tests later, I was diagnosed. I stayed in overnight and was shown how to do my injections and then cracked on from there.”
Being part of the 8% of people in the UK to have the serious and lifelong condition, Muldoon could’ve been forgiven for feeling disheartened and disillusioned. But instead, he refused to be defined by his illness.
“When I got diagnosed, the first thing I looked at was how it would hinder me,” he reveals. “The only thing I couldn’t do was go in the army, because you stay out in the field for days at a time without a constant food supply.
“The dietician said that the best form of medicine for diabetes, aside from insulin, is fitness, so I just kept on going. I was in hospital on the Friday and then by Sunday morning, I was back on the pitch playing for Scunthorpe schoolboys.”
Managing type 1 diabetes can be challenging, but Muldoon adapted quickly and was never fazed by his adversity.
After 21 years, he has found carb counting to be the most effective method of calculating the correct insulin dosages.
“I’ve had it for so long now that it’s just second nature,” he reflects. “I wouldn’t say my life drastically changed, I just have to be well prepared and make sure my bag is stocked up with everything I need, such as insulin, energy drinks, bananas and Mars bars.
“I have a long-acting injection every day – it’s a 24-hour injection that I take every morning. Then, I carb count, so I’ll take a shot of insulin for every 10g of carbohydrates that I eat.
“For example, I have three Weetabix and a banana in the morning, and that’s about 35g of carbohydrates, so I’ll inject three units of insulin. Prior to a game and around 12 hours afterwards, you’re meant to slice that by half because it’s an intense workout.
“I’ve also got a Libre device, which is a sensor in my arm that connects to an app on my phone and takes glucose readings. It’s a blessing because the traditional way to monitor your levels was to take blood by pricking your finger, so I’d advise anyone that’s diabetic to try it out.”
Despite his relaxed attitude towards the condition, it hasn’t always been plain sailing for Muldoon, particularly during his days before professional football as a plasterer.
“I worked on a building site for seven years,” he reveals. “At the time, I was on a different type of insulin and I wasn’t carb counting – it was just inject in a morning and inject at night.
“You’re carrying a lot of heavy equipment up and down steps and it takes the energy out of you when you’re grafting hard. There’d be days where I’d pass out and I’d be sat in the corridor and wake up with a couple of paramedics next to me.
“Having a hypo (hypoglycaemia) episode wipes you out completely and all you can do is lie down and do nothing for the next few hours. I got myself in them sort of scenarios three or four times, so it wasn’t loads but it was enough to annoy me and that just encouraged me to get ahead of it and become more prepared to not get in that situation.”
Fortunately for the Scunthorpe-born striker, diabetes has never restricted his ability to perform on the football pitch.
“Touch wood, I’ve never had to come off because I’m low on blood sugar,” says Muldoon. “The only times it would maybe have some sort of impact is when the temperature is really high, so maybe during the middle of pre-season, but the gaffer and the physios and everyone else are aware of the situation.
“It’s all about preparation; I’ve always been well regimented with my routines, and I think that’s important. I go to the gym the day after every game, I drink two or three litres of water every day throughout the whole week and I eat well – apart from a curry or a takeaway and a couple of beers at the weekend!
“I’ve always got my bag stocked up, so after a game when my sugar levels are coming down dramatically, I can quickly get back to the changing room and counter that with an energy drink and a banana or a chocolate bar.
“Many people will say I’ve got to this point against the odds, but I don’t look at it that way. I’m always well equipped to deal with my diabetes, so I don’t see it as an obstacle.
“Going into a game, I obviously need to have an idea of where my blood sugar levels are at, but I’m more focused on how I’m going to perform rather than how my diabetes is going to affect me.”
Although he is approaching retirement age, Muldoon is determined to extend his playing career for as long as possible, having waited until he was 31 for a proper shot in the EFL.
“I started my career at Brigg Town on £50 a week, and I remember having a sit down with the manager, Steve Housham, and said I wanted to get to the Conference by the time I was 24 or 25,” he notes.
“I managed to surpass that when Keith Hill took me to Rochdale, but I snapped my groin two games into pre-season and didn’t touch a ball for three months, so I ended up only playing a handful of games in League One and then dropped down to Lincoln in the Conference.
“To get back into the EFL five years later was amazing. It’s been an absolute privilege to play for Harrogate in League Two and I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved so far. I scored the Club’s first goal at this level, and I’ve managed to play a big part in keeping us in a secure place.
“I’m 33 now but I don’t have any plans of slowing down, and my legs aren’t telling me anything else at the moment! Hopefully, long may it continue.”
Having worked so hard to make his mark on the pitch, Muldoon is now focused on becoming a role model off it.
Committed to inspiring the next generation, he has become an ambassador for Diabetes UK and delivers talks in schools to raise awareness of his condition.
“I’m a big believer in being a role model and using my platform to help people,” he declares. “I get so many messages on my Instagram, probably three or four a week, and I always respond and have a little chat.
“I’ve had a few 15 or 16-year- olds message about football and I try to give them some advice, mostly about their diets and what they’re eating before a game. Many people have told me that what I’ve suggested has worked, so I guess I’m having a positive impact!
“A lot of young people want to grow up and play football and I hope that when they watch me out there scoring and being part of the team, they understand that having diabetes doesn’t stop you achieving those dreams.
“I’ve never let it get to me and it’s never been a hindrance, so it shouldn’t be for anyone else.”
This feature originally appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of the EFL Magazine.