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   Inside Out - West Midlands: Monday 6th January, 2003


INJURY| how does Britain fare in the treatment of its footballers?

Inside Out investigates how many professional footballers are receiving sub-standard medical treatment. It's a problem that can destroy the careers of even the most highly paid players.

When a professional footballer, worth millions to the club, is sidelined through injury, you would be forgiven for assuming they would receive the best medical treatment available.

However it may surprise you to learn that in many cases the treatment you or I would receive at our local NHS far exceeds the standards of treatment received by many professional footballers.

Surprised? Inside Out was, so we sent Dr Ralph Rogers, sports medicine specialist to investigate.

Derek Dougan the Wolverhampton Wanderer’s legend knows all too well how substandard medical treatment can destroy careers.

Wrong diagnosis

Thirty years ago, Derek was a household name, yet his glittering career was nearly ruined by a wrongly diagnosed injury. During the second match of 1959, Derek seriously injured his ankle.

Derek Dougan
Derek Dougan's career was so very nearly destroyed through injury

It took eleven weeks before doctors realised that his ankle was actually broken. Never accepting responsibility for the mistake, the hospital simply claimed it was "one of those things."

If only it had just been one of those things, but the 1960s and 70s were legendary for stories of misdiagnosis.

Dr Ralph Rogers is doubtful as to whether medical care in English football has really improved since then.

A revealing report by Dr Ivan Waddington of Leicester University investigates the extent of the problem and reveals some startling results.

  • Out of 58 club doctors involved in the report, only nine are specially trained

  • Half of the physiotherapists involved in the report had no training at all

The FA’s response to the report is that the 92 football clubs in the League all have very different budgets. It is therefore unreasonable to expect a second division club to be in a position to afford the same medical care as a premiership giant.

Dr Ralph Rogers examining a player's feet
Dr Ralph Rogers gives Nuneaton Borough FC a thorough check-up

This indeed is reflected in the fact that all new club physios in the Premiership must be qualified. But that’s only 20 clubs out of 92. So what’s the prognosis for the remaining 72?

Many of the big clubs refused Inside Out entry. It was only non-league Nuneaton Borough that gladly opened its doors to us.

Here the team physio Paul Eagon, is a full time fireman. His work at the club is only part time so the majority of rehabilitation is undertaken by the footballers at home.

Willing to change

Dr Ralph Rogers was impressed with Nuneaton’s positive attitude towards injury and willingness to take on board his suggestions.

Dr Ralph's Suggestions

the dug out - players sit in the freezing cold prior to playing. Cold muscles are more prone to injury. Dr Rogers cheap and simple solution? The good old hot water bottle

the heat lamp - this is an antiquated piece of kit and there is little proof that it actually helps

feet - footballers' boots are normally half a size down to ensure a tight fit and good contact with the ball. This can cause blistering. The footballers' solution is to smear their socks in Vaseline to give more flexibility. Dr Rogers' is highly sceptical of this method

Nuneaton may have a forward thinking approach, but not all clubs are as willing to change. As Derek Dougan can testify, it’s the players that are suffering in the long run.

"I am no longer able to run. I have a serious back problem. I need a knee replacement. I have challenged club doctors. I have challenged the club physiotherapist. I have challenged the club trainer.

With hindsight I have been completely vindicated because my stand in all of this has been correct."
Derek Dougan

The FA seems to be full of contradictions. With players' salaries reaching astronomical figures, it seems inconceivable that something as important and fundamental as medical care should be so neglected.

As Derek Dougan concludes; "The most valuable thing today in soccer are the players…If there had been a bit more care, a bit more understanding… Then I think we may not be in the state we are today."

See also ...

Inside Out: West Midlands
More Great Salopians

On the rest of Inside Out
Related articles on the
rest of the site

High toll of football injuries
Software spots football injuries
Black Country - Derek Dougan

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Football Association

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