During a tournament, the presenter will often say we will be going live to the England camp, or any of the other home nations who have qualified, in this case Scotland and Wales. This may when they are at the team hotel, or at the game itself.
Being a member of the FA Medical Society, I have attended many post World Cup or European Championship tournament de-briefs by either former physio’s Gary Lewin, Fred Street and team doctors Vernon Edwards and John Crane. I thought I would give some insight on life of the medical staff at a major tournament.
FIT FOR KICK OFF
Broad preparation and planning would have been going on since qualifying matches started two years ago. That planning, coupled with experience and knowledge gained from participation in previous tournaments is aimed at providing a comfort blanket allowing players to perform to the best of their ability.
THE MEDICAL TEAM
The Football Association, via its many departments provides and organises the facilities that are required for the squad and leave nothing to chance. There are back-up and contingency plans for everything that might or might not be needed.
The fine tuning of the day-to-day detail is of course in the hands of the manager. In order for him to plan efficiently, he needs feedback from his coaching, training and medical staff. The team doctor, physios and fitness coaches are responsible for the daily availability of as many fit players as possible to train, reporting back on the general health of players, and observing any other points that may be relevant to the well being of the group.
These are the terms and reference under which all teams will operate for national matches. The difference in a tournament is that they are together for a few weeks instead of a few days, with the problems that travel, foreign food and unsual climates can super impose on the usual caseload of ‘running repair’ injuries and the ever present threat of serious injury.
To minimise the hazards of the wrong food, travel problems, climate etc, the doctor takes all the usual sensible preventative measures and advises the players long before they arrive,so they can play in keeping fit and healthy. They will carry every possible medication to facilitate all situations and requirements, then feedback from all members of staff (and players’ observations) is used to monitor the most important factor.
The treatment of injury is in many ways no different from the training and playing of any other international match. The main difference is that they are together for a series of matches, and can only use 26 named players for the whole tournament. Therefore, a national team party takes on a club like attitude to the injured player.
“One-off” national team games have players selected from a fit squad. Any serious injuries and the player is returned to their club and a replacement is bought in. This means that in practice only injuries under treatment are “running repairs”.
This is not possible in a tournament and rehabilitation of players becomes part of the scene. Players can be left out of training and games as part of treatment regimes and bought back in for later games or to cover injured players.
As I have said, it becomes like a club, where you are trying to have as many fit players available for the manager to choose from, for both training and playing. This involves discussion on a daily basis with the manager about players training too hard, too long or if at all, and even late fitness tests, which again are more of a club feature than a routine international.
SETTING UP CAMP
In order to provide this sort of back-up service to the manager and players, the doctor and physios set up a base at the hotel and at the training camp (often a facility of a local professional side with the equipment needed).
They take all their own machines, ultrasound, pulsed shortwave, interferential and all the usual strappings and dressings that are familiar in any injury unit.
The room they convert in hotels tends to be the engine room of the party, where everyone gathers. It is a crossroads of gossip, information, supplies of kit, medication, a chat with the doctor, usually with a recreation room and TV/DVD room next door.
You will have gathered that they are ‘on the road,’ a familiar scene to any club footballer and anyone who has worked in football at a professional club.
The job is a tracksuit job, with as much time spent on the pitch and the gym as in the treatment room. As well as maintaining some fitness with injured players, there are other players who may not have played in the last game and need to do some work. Those who have played would be involved in a recovery session, which may include some non-contact work in the swimming pool followed by massages. The injured players would obviously receive treatment whilst those that did not play, would train.
There is also morale and boredom to deal with – ‘killing time’ is the name of the game, although it is a little bit different for players nowadays with internet, mobile phones lap tops etc. Maintaining a Wi-Fi connection will always be a priority for staff. In the modern age. Things like, tennis, golf and cycling can be used to ring the changes, especially during the two three weeks acclimatisation period in the run up to the finals.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
A major tournament is not all about treatment and academics, but is all about joining in. A former England doctor who was seen cooking breakfast with a chefs’ hat and apron on took a lot of leg pulling from the players as he served them baked beans. An hour later he would be taking blood tests for altitude and acclimatisation tests. All this was done without any loss of professional dignity or integrity. A neat balancing act that not everyone is equipped to perform.
The aim of all this is to field a team on match days with players who are as fit and healthy both physically and psychologically as possible. The analysis of who or what makes the most contribution to this end is both unrewarding and undesirable. What is important though is everyone is pulling on the same rope in one direction.
For a medical staff, a tournament can sometimes be defined not so much by results as injuries. Examples are Gordon Banks in 1970, Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking in 1982 and Brian Robson in 1986 and 1990. Wayne Rooney in 2004 and Michael Owen 2006 are other examples. As we build up to this year’s tournament , Gareth Southgate named an initial 33 man squad, considering the usual injury doubts. Similar concerns applied during the build up to Euro ‘96 with striker Alan Shearer a fitness concern as he was recovering from a hernia operation. The England Physio at the tournament Alan Smith worked seven days a week, often using a school playing field in Rotherham in the weeks leading up to the tournament. Terry Venables called his physio to his office as he had to submit the squad to UEFA. The question -’Do I select Alan Shearer as he hasn’t played 90 minutes in the warm up games?’ Alan replied positively ‘Yes he will be fit. He then joined in with the squad, continuing his rehabilitation and being named in the starting line up to face Switzerland in the opening game. Shearer would go to be the tournament’s top goal scorer winning the Golden Boot award.