The importance of Doctors and the Medics within football

Has the Doc had a look at him?’ What does the Doc think?’ The Doc has arranged for him to see the specialist. He is asking the Doc for a scan. I could go on forever with the times the word ‘Doc’ has been mentioned throughout football.

And the list would be very long as to how many ‘Docs’ your average manager would have worked with. The club doctor is not a normal practitioner under pressure from public opinion, journalists and even club directors, it is not always easy to respect confidentiality. Independence and respect of players are always vital. Trust is built up with each injury the doctor deals with. He has a thankless task since he is there break bad news the manager and tell players that they must stop playing. Top footballers find such news hard to accept. The club doctor must be prepared to work in a team, calling on the expertise of other team members, like a conductor who cannot be a virtuoso of every instrument. However, he must be a specialist in trauma, as he can only develop a players trust by looking after him properly.

Although medical expertise is indispensable, it is not always sufficient, since club doctors need other qualities to be fully effective: passion the ability to talk on the same level as the players and a liking for sportsmen, the sporting environment and the stress of competition. It should be stressed that football club doctors are judged by people who know nothing about medicine but who base the opinions on results, human contact, dialogue and trust. It is up to the doctor to show that he is part of the group and like, the players and technical staff, forms a strong link in the chain, helping along with other members of the MDT to ensure the team performs to the best of its abilities.

Despite the varying demands and changing roles of being the medical practitioner in professional football,  the clubdoctor continues to be a vital part of any club’s backroom staff, along with the physio.

The doctor’s role in football is a mix really of general practice, sports medicine, acute injury management and occupational health.

Doctors come more into their own and are noticed more by the staffif there are lacerations or wounds to be attended to, head injuries to be assessed, or if there are acute chest or abdominal problems.

We saw in the Arsenal v Wolves game recently clash of heads which put Raul Jimenez into hospital for two weeks with a suspected fractured skull.

After he collided with David Luiz when contesting the ball from a corner, he was given oxygen on the pitch, stretchered off and immediately rushed to hospital where he would be under the care of the doctor.

But doctors are also relevant in the assessment and treatment of the many, fortunately mainly minor, illnesses and afflictions.

Only doctors can give immunisations, injections and prescribe drugs other than simple remedies- or order investigations such as blood tests, x-rays, ultrasound and other scans and much more besides – including the famouspre signing medicals. 

If you can trust your medicalteam, then the players can really push themselves harder and harder and know they are not going be taken to far that they will be injured and out of the game, or not performing to the best of their ability.

But this year has highlighted like never before how important the manager and his medical team partnership is within a football club when the game closed its doors in March due to  COVID-19.

The pandemic was and still is a medical issue and the challenge was rightly laid at the feet of club doctors and the Premier League, EFL and Scottish Football League to come up with a solution which would enable football to return.

Rangers’ manager Steven Gerrard paid tribute to club doctor Mark Waller for helping guide the club through the COVID-19 pandemic and admitted he had been desperate to bring him to Ibrox.

Gerrard worked closely with Waller at Liverpool through his own injury problems as a player and said he was ‘outstanding’ for Rangers in recent months.

Gerrard said he had no doubts they would be on the front foot in the fight against the disease with Waller in place andpraised his professionalism throughout the crisis.  

He said: “I had no doubt when coronavirus first started-in the early days that the Doc was on the front foot which I expected

“I have known him for 20 years and I have the ultimate trust in him. I knew we would all be fine as a club- he has looked after the whole club on his own really with the services he has provided.

“He’s had Jordan (Milsom)and the medical team as fantastic support, but I think everyone else who doesn’t know the doctor as well as I do is seeing now what a top professional he is, and how good he is with the skill set he can bring to the table.

“It is the exact reason why I was so desperate to get him here beside me.”

Waller spent 17 years at Liverpool and also had stints with Hull City and Aston Villa after leaving Anfield.

The doctor was credited for saving Gerrard Houllier’s life in 2001 after he suffered chest pains at half time during a game against Leeds United. The then Liverpool boss was rushed to hospital after Waller’s intervention and required surgery which forced him out of football for five months.

It was not only Gerrard heaping praise on the Doc. Romanian midfielder Ianis  Hagi said he was really impressed with the way Waller kept the players updated throughout the shutdown, taking care of them, being there when they needed something and constantlyproviding updates on the situation.

Another example of the value of a club doctor is at QPR, where Dr Imtiaz Ahmad is in place to assist manager Mark Warburton.

Earlier this year was theCheltenham Race festival, well known as a team bonding occasion for professional footballers, many of whom like a day at the races. So QPR had planned a club trip.

Only this was just before what became the first lockdown and the famous event narrowly avoiding being scrapped because of concerns over COVID-19.

Amidst growing public health concerns, Doctor Ahmaddecided to speak with manager Mark Warburton, highlighting the issue that would later not only impact football clubs but the whole of society.

He insisted they they needed to make an unpopular decision by cancelling the trip in the wider interests of players’ health.

Ahmad is also trained on mental health with an attitude of “no off buttons” for players nowadays -something that was a big concern during lockdown and beyond.

So it is essential to have that environment In clubs to support players. As we have already seen, club doctors throughout football provide a duty of care and support to both players and staff in all aspects of day to day life at a club, not just on a Saturday.

Dr Matt Perry has been at at Wolverhampton Wanderers for best part of two decades and was given an outstanding contribution award in the2019/20 season. It recognisedhis hard work, sacrifice and above all planning for project restart all to keep players safe and protected so they can focus on football.

He is the first person to be given the award by the cluband captain Connor Coady paid tribute to Dr Perry, calling him: “An incredible and fantastic person.” 

He added: “The reassurance he has given us, what he hasdone for this football club over the lockdown period and the re-starting of games, he was involved with absolutely everything.”

Matt himself also gave some fascinating insight to the role, both from project restart, the initial impact, implications and the challenge of not only the club but the hospitals, GP surgeries and those colleagues  on the front line.

He  also talked about looking after players health and well-being on a daily basis saying: “A group of players who have high standards themselves make the job a lot easier in following advice and taking on board instructions.

“It’s times like this you realise how important that message of personnel responsibility is. 

“What is also important is the ever present risk of serious injury which is a vital role of a club doctor and medical staff.

“That doesn’t respect status or days of the week it can happen in a youth team game on a Saturday morning as it can live on Sky on Sunday Evening as we saw at Arsenal with Raul.

“The care of players is paramount and the medical update after the Jimenez incident read “Any injury of this nature is complex and timescales are uncertain. As his doctor I am not going to disclose any more details of his injury, his surgery or provide daily updates.

“Only that it is safe to say that Raul’s most immediate needs are simple: space, rest and peace. “

Wonderful words from the Doc. It was pleasing to see the Wolves players and staff have a commissioned painting for Matt Perry to thank him for his work during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The acrylic on canvas which you can see below is by Louise Cobbold who has produced the cover of the match day Programme cover art since the return to the premier league in 2018/19. Writing on Linkedin, she said one of the heroes behind the scenes at Wolves during the pandemic – Club Doctor Matt Perry. This painting was a thank you to him from the players and staff.

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