The football pitch is one place where calls of faking it are common – usually referring to dramatic tumbles in view of the referee. But when Scotland international right-back Julie Ferguson had a grand mal epileptic seizure during a match, she faced accusations of cheating.
“I was playing for Hibernian at the time and we were in the semi-final of a cup game,” said the 33-year-old digital marketing consultant from Glasgow who is an epilepsy ambassador for charity Quarriers. “We were losing and one of our players had been sent off, then I had a grand mal seizure.
“I was carried off the pitch and 10 minutes extra time was added to the game, during which we scored two goals and won. Some members of the opposition suggested I’d faked the seizure to get extra time.”
Julie may have developed epilepsy after sustaining an injury during a football game in 2003. “I took a bad head knock when someone elbowed me in the face,” she says. “The doctors can’t say for certain, but it could have been the trigger.”She refused to let the condition put an end to her football career but believes many people with epilepsy are discouraged from playing sport.
“Luckily, I was supported by my coach and other players,” Julie added. “They didn’t make a big issue of it and encouraged me to see specialists. There were times I had partial seizures during matches, where I’ll be twitching and conscious, but managed to keep playing.”
Since retiring from professional football, the frequency of Julie’s seizures have reduced. As she acknowledges: “Playing professional football while trying to hold down a job is stressful and puts your body under a lot of pressure.”
Off the pitch, she hasn’t encountered many other negative reactions to her epilepsy.
She said: “Anyone with epilepsy will have come across the accusation that they’re faking it – it’s a common response from people who are naïve about it or frightened by it. Thankfully, I have a very good circle of friends, colleagues and family around me, so I can brush off anyone who says anything silly.”