MATT CROOKS was 17 when he had had his first seizure, but thanks to teenage feelings of impregnability, he shrugged it off as nothing too serious. Then, he had another. And another, and another. Before too long, he had suffered “six or seven seizures” in the space of a couple of months. Sometimes, he was unconscious for as long as two hours.

Then, and only then, did the aspiring professional footballer face up to the reality of what was going on. Crooks is an epileptic, and his condition is something he will have to manage for the rest of his life. It doesn’t define who he is, and days or even weeks go by when he doesn’t give it a second thought. It is always there in the background though, impossible to completely ignore.

“I was only 17 when I first got diagnosed, so I was quite naïve,” explained the Middlesbrough midfielder. “I’m quite a relaxed character anyway, so I kind of brushed it aside. I remember turning up to training at Huddersfield on the Monday after I’d had my first seizure on the Saturday. We had a game on the Tuesday, and I just mentioned it in passing to the physio as we were going out to train. He shouted back, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ and it took off from there.

“Not knowing much about epilepsy at that time, and because I was 17 and ‘normal’, I just assumed it was nothing really to worry about. They initially said it might be a one-off, so I thought that would be the case and my life would be back to normal again. But they kept happening and I had six or seven in the space of two or three months. Obviously, then, I realised it was something that was always going to be present in my life.”

Ask Crooks to describe his seizures, and he finds it extremely difficult to discuss. Not because he is embarrassed or scared. Simply because when his epilepsy takes over, he instantly blacks out.

“I can’t describe it,” he said. “I just go unconscious straight away. I don’t know when they’re coming, or if they’re coming, and then I just black out. Depending on the seizure, I could be out for anything between 45 minutes or two hours. That’s not how long the seizure lasts, but that’s how long I can be unconscious before I come back round.

“The next thing I know, I’ve got a massive headache, am feeling sick and just want to go to sleep. In terms of looking at myself having a seizure though, I don’t actually know what that looks like.”

Having been diagnosed during his time with Huddersfield, Crooks was proscribed medication to help bring his condition under control. Initially, the dose of the drug Keppra was too small, and the seizures continued. Gradually, though, as the dosage was increased, so the regularity of his seizures diminished.

Today, he takes a 1,000mg tablet twice a day, and has not had a seizure for four years, since he collapsed in the back of a taxi on his way to training with Rangers. “I got a free taxi ride out of it,” he joked. “I had it as I was arriving to the training ground and the taxi driver ran in to tell everyone what was happening.”

Speak to the 27-year-old about his medical experiences over the course of the last decade, and his frankness can be quite surprising. As he readily admits, though, Crooks has always felt a bit different.

Both of his parents are deaf, along with his brothers, so he grew up in a household where sign language was the primary means of communication. To him, that was normal. So, dealing with epilepsy was just another challenge that quickly became a routine part of everyday life.

“I’m used to having something different in my family life, which is not normal to your regular family,” he said. “In having lived around that deafness, I just see my epilepsy as something else that’s a bit different.

“It’s just my life. Everyone has something in their life which is different, and mine’s just having epilepsy and parents that are deaf. I’ve always found it quite cool that having parents that were deaf was something that set me apart from everyone else, and that I could have conversations with my parents from across the room when no one else was sure what we were saying.

“There’s always been benefits to it! I learned sign language from an early age in the same way that I learned how to talk. My dad will be the first to tell you it’s not 100 per cent, but I can hold a decent conversation.”

His epilepsy does not really impact on his day-to-day living, and it has not prevented him from having a long and successful career in football. Middlesbrough knew he had epilepsy when they signed him, and he was able to pass a medical without any issues.

As he has grown up and had a family though, so he has gained a new perspective on his condition. He doesn’t fret about his own wellbeing, but he does worry about what his epilepsy might mean for his two young sons.

“I’m more fearful now than I was when I was younger because I’ve got the two boys that depend on me,” he said. “When I’m driving with them in the car, I’m thinking, ‘Have I remembered to take my medication?’ Before having kids, I was fine.

“It’s one of those things where something crops up every now and then and you have a little bit of a think about it. I’ve been thinking about it when I’ve been driving and I’ve got my son in the back of the car. You’re thinking, ‘Anything could happen at any point’. Obviously, nothing’s happened for so long, so I’d like to think I’m good now, but you never know.”

While Crooks’ experiences with epilepsy have been manageable, sadly that is not always the case. Like Crooks, Peter Doody was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 17, but at the age of 21, he suffered SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death In Epilepsy) and died.

His parents, Joanne and Andrew, set up the Peter Doody Foundation in his memory in 2019, to raise money to support young adults between the ages of 17 and 30 with epilepsy, as well as their carers and families.

Crooks is working with the charity as a patron and is keen to raise awareness about epilepsy and attempt to help demolish some of the stigmas and ignorance that surround the condition.

“When they got in touch, I said I’d meet them in Yarm for a coffee and have a chat,” he said. “It’s mad because Peter’s situation, how he was diagnosed, was pretty much identical to mine. That was a bit freaky really. Then knowing that he passed away, that struck a chord because of what happened in my life and me having epilepsy at the same time. I feel like if I can help in any way, I’d desperately like to.

“It’s hard to look at yourself as a role model – it makes me cringe a bit. I’m just me at the end of the day. But I do understand that I’ve got a platform now, especially with being at a club as big as Middlesbrough. I understand the role I have in helping people, especially people who might be too embarrassed and feel they don’t want to open up about what’s going on.

“It’s also a case of trying to help to educate people because when I first spoke to the people at the Foundation about my epilepsy, they told me things that I didn’t even know. I’ve had this for nine years, but they were able to tell me things I should have done, and the care I should have had, but I never did.

"If we can help one person get the proper care, and possibly help save a life, then you can’t say that’s not worth it.”

* For more information about the Peter Doody Foundation, visit