BY GAVIN BLACKWELL
Over the years we have seen medical staff get the headlines in many different circumstances; some positive, others negative.
From Manchester United’s physio Laurie Brown and gaffer Tommy Docherty’s liaison with his wife Mary Brown that would later cost Docherty his job when he famously quoted “I have been sacked for failing in love” to the opening day of the inaugural Premier League season before Oldham Athletic’s first game away at Chelsea in 1992 when physio Ian Liversedge, a real character by the way, was arrested after a misunderstanding with 6ft 8in bouncers in a hotel night club. Boss Joe Royle climbed out of bed to bail him out of the cells at 4am. But Liversedge’s colourful life in football underlines the priceless value of the profession.
While another United man, Jim McGregor, was sacked by Alex Ferguson for handing out baseball caps to the players following an FA Cup final win against Chelsea. This was due to the fact that they advertised a well-known pharmaceutical firm that McGregor was rumoured to have taken a backhander for.
Another that springs to mind is prior to a July pre-season friendly with Wolves at Molineux, Liverpool’s Mark Leather had an infamous fall out with manager Gérard Houllier over the treatment of Michael Owen when his manager opted to send him abroad for treatment of his problematic hamstring injury. This resulted in him being suspended and later leaving his role.
Manchester United, though, have probably hit the headlines more than any other club on the medical side. Not so long ago, Ferguson opted to sack club doctor Mike Stone who was in the spotlight over Wayne Rooney and the regular fitness updates following his metatarsal injury and whether or not he would be fit for England’s 2006 World Cup campaign. When news broke of Stones’ departure it was put down to his high media presence during the will he/won’t he on Rooney’s presence in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad. However, when Stones took up the role with United he had a number of other business interests of which Ferguson gave him six months to sort out. He later found that they had continued resulting in his departure.
In August 2015 Chelsea hit the headlines when Jose Mourinho and his medical staff clashed over the treatment of Eden Hazard, going on to the pitch to treat him which left them down to eight men. Having had two sent off, this resulted in Eva Carneiro posting on social media and being suspended and losing her job following a court battle.
During Pep Guardiola’s spell in charge of Bayern Munich he sarcastically went up and clapped his physio and doctor in the dugout when a player broke down with a hamstring injury in a Champions League game. Both later resigned from the positions. Guardiola has a chapter in his book, Pep Confidential, titled Medical Matters – which is an interesting read.
Over the years we have seen many an incident or situation involving the physio in games. Who can forget former England man Gary Lewin fracturing and breaking an ankle during England’s opening 2014 World Cup game against Italy having fallen over a water bottle whilst celebrating a goal?
These days the technical area is very crowded with a number of coaching and medical staff; something UEFA decided to address by reducing the number of people allowed to sit in the dugout during games. Lewin also assisted John Terry in the League Cup final after being knocked unconscious following a blow to the head. We also remember him being called in to action to deal with a serious injury following Arsenal’s 1993 League Cup final win over Sheffield Wednesday when Tony Adams dropped Steve Morrow during the post-match celebrations resulting in him fracturing and dislocating his elbow.
I often hear it said that a physio cannot be sent off, which is not exactly true. The former Wimbledon, Sheffield United and Watford physio, Derek French, was sent off during his time with the Hornets for verbal abuse while substituting a player on New Year’s Day 1988, in an away game at Tottenham Hotspur. It crowned a miserable Christmas period for him – he had been breathalysed by Police just a few days earlier.
Another physio – this time Norwich City’s Tim Sheppard – was reported by the assistant referee during a UEFA Cup game against Bayern Munich in 1993 for allegedly giving technical instruction to Ruel Fox, merely asking him if he was okay following knock he had received earlier. For Sheppard it resulted in a suspension for the second leg at Carrow Road. Commentator John Motson later presented Sheppard with his commentary notes after that game.
When West Bromwich Albion and Scotland player Willie Johnston failed a routine drug test at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina he was sent home in disgrace. His former club physio Richard Roberts was live on ITN’s News at One programme talking about the incident – it just shows you don’t know when you will be required.
To conclude, I will leave you with two positive stories. The first being that of former long-serving Oxford United physio Ken Fish, who was given the ultimate honour by his manager Maurice Evans who insisted that he made the walk up to the Royal box and be given the medal when they beat Queens Park Rangers in the 1986 Milk Cup final. The great Brian Clough bestowed a similar honour on his physio/trainer Jimmy Gordon, insisting he led the Nottingham Forest team out at Wembley for the League Cup Final in 1980 against Wolves.