High on a shelf in an unassuming living room on the outskirts of the Czech the city Brno sits a trophy with the words ‘THE BEST – FIFA’ on it.
It’s a modest place for this kind of prestigious award however its equally-humble owner hopes its symbolism can exchange one in every of football’s – and society’s – greatest scourges.
Francis Kone was awarded the Fifa prize final month after the Togo international, then taking part in for Slovacko FC, saved the life of Bohemians’ Martin Berkovec while taking part in a Czech league game in February.
He did so by reacting quickest after the Bohemians goalkeeper was knocked out by one in every of his private avid gamers – placing his arms inside of Berkovec’s mouth to prevent him from swallowing his tongue.
The act has turn into something of a speciality for Kone, who has saved four other folks’s lives this way then again the presence of TV cameras on this example intended he has since shot to world standing.
Nonetheless, he nevertheless didn’t expect to acquire the annual Fifa Fair Play Award, his identify glittering brightly alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gianluigi Buffon and Zinedine Zidane all through October’s ceremony in London.
“I was very surprised. It was like a dream,” discussed the Ivorian-born Kone, who has gained two caps for Togo as a result of his mother’s nationality.
Over the marvel, the 26-year-old now believes the award can be in agreement fight the scourge of racism – the striker suffered racial abuse from some Bohemian fanatics all through the hole 30 minutes of February’s are compatible in Prague.
“It is a message. Fair play means something like this too – to stop racism, this is fair play,” he discussed.
“I know what they discussed because of they known as my club to apologise. They discussed thanks because of I saved one in every of their avid gamers. They apologised because of they’d been pronouncing bad problems, like monkey and a lot of other problems.
“It’s now not customary to regard an individual as like a monkey – it is wrong. Football is truthful play and I confirmed them that. Football isn’t what they’re doing with racism. They have to forestall it – for me, that is the message.”
Kone’s heroic actions didn’t merely exchange the attitudes of a couple of Bohemians fanatics, he says, then again almost about the entire other folks he meets in a country where he has turn into a local famous person.
“Now there is more respect because the way they looked at me and treated me before is not the same as the way as they look at me and treat me now. Now there is more friendliness, a better relationship. For them, I am famous.”
One of Kone’s proudest moments were given right here when he travelled with FC Zbrojovka Brno, who he joined in July, to the Czech capital final month to play at the area of reigning champions Slavia Prague.
“I was warming up and I could hear the fans say ‘it’s that guy who saved Martin’ and after that, they started clapping and chanting ‘Francis’ – not my fans, but the fans of Slavia,” he says with some way of marvel.
“The feeling made me like ‘Oh My God’ and I was not concentrating on warming up – I was away – because it was amazing, very amazing.”
From racial abuse to widespread applause, it’s quite a leap, quite a journey.
After starting out at FC Bibo in Ivory Coast (the equivalent academy where his past due excellent pal Cheick Tiote were given right here by way of), Kone carried out in Thailand, Oman, Portugal and Hungary quicker than moving to Czech Republic.
He says he was racially abused in perfect his third game in European football, when his Portuguese side Olhanense carried out at the area of two-time European champions Porto in December 2013.
A mix of the abuse and marvel – “it was very scary” – intended he nearly walked transparent of football there and then, then again he stayed on and now believes he can play an important serve as.
“I am a Christian, I pray a lot, I fast a lot so I think God is trying to give me a message. Maybe I am a little angel sent by him. There are some people now who see me as an angel – I have a lot of messages like this. I say ‘I am just Kone Francis and it is God who is doing this, not me.’”
Like many, Kone is flummoxed that he has saved the lives of four other folks in a similar fashion, describing it as “not normal – but something extra-normal.”
After taking note of how two other folks in his neighbourhood died in such taste, he was inspired to learn from an older excellent pal who stopped each and every different dying by preventing the individual from swallowing their tongue.
Kone says he has since saved other folks’s lives in Thailand (2011) and two instances in Abidjan (2013 and 2015), irrespective of the physically pain that can come his way.
He has scars on his arms and surprisingly high up his hand, explaining that people who are slipping away to seek out a lot of power “because they are fighting for their lives” – the problem being that any attainable saver tends to have to slip his arms between tooth that ceaselessly need to clench tightly shut.
“Martin bit me but the second guy bit me so much – it was horrible,” he says. “All his mouth was blood – blood from his mouth, blood from my fingers.”
Nonetheless, he nevertheless wasted no time in helping Martin and the pair have stayed concerned, meeting two instances irrespective of their conversation being limited by language.
“Unfortunately my English is not that good, or it’s as good as his Czech, but we talk somehow so we go for a coffee,” Berkovec, who now plays for MFK Karvina, recommended BBC Sport.
“I take into accout perfect what happened quicker than the collision and then I blacked out. The following day I realized what had happened, all the way through the media, and it was horrible. I thank him for saving my existence.
“He additionally were given the (Fifa) prize for it so I congratulate him, although it could be a lot better if that hadn’t came about in any respect.”
Despite the knock-on result of his actions in south-eastern Prague in February and his accept as true with throughout the message the Fifa awards sends to racists, Kone shares the sentiment.
“I are not looking for this to occur once more – truly – as a result of it is so bad and so terrible,” explains certainly one of soccer’s quiet heroes. “But if it occurs, I’ve to do what I will be able to do.”