The Matty Lawrence Column: Headcases – Can The Game Do More To Protect Its Players?


By Matty Lawrence

The sickening collision between Ryan Mason and Gary Cahill last weekend once again brought head injuries in sport crashing into view.

Cahill of Chelsea arrived a split-second after Hull’s Mason to an aerial battle and the side of Mason’s head bore the brunt of Cahill’s full-blooded attempt to head the ball on goal.

What we all witnessed was 100% accidental: great defending from Mason and a real desire to score a goal from a corner by Cahill.

The clash was ghastly to watch in real time, let alone the numerous slow motion replays that seemed to appear from tens of different angles. Most of us, if we are honest, winced and had to look the other way. Mason was down on the ground receiving treatment for his injury for approximately ten minutes and was administered oxygen before being taken off to hospital by stretcher.

The genre of click-bait, sub-standard journalism saw a few headlines screeching, ‘life-saving surgery,’ and ‘Mason fights for life,’ but luckily this doesn’t ever appear to have been the case.

Ryan Mason appears to be in fine spirits and already on the road-to-recovery. I’m positive that this will be a long and arduous road, probably more psychologically than physically.

I was lucky in my career never to have received such a horrific injury, but even returning from a mild concussion leaves you with a little doubt in your mind when you rise for the next header in training.

Mason is sitting up and joking in bed with teammates and family, as of Tuesday, so it seems many prayers have been answered.

Somewhat perversely though, I feel it is the other  recipient of the “bad head in the morning” that we should be talking at greater lengths about -.providing of course Mason does make that expected, full recovery.

I played professional football for not far off two decades and I fully understand the physicality of sport and that incessant drive and will to win, but there still needs to be more stringent medical guidelines implemented.

Look, I’m not one of those lily-livered snowflakes that it seems so derigueur to talk about in the current climate. I am not political correctness gone mad…although the last word is slightly more feasible, however.

This is not a solely negative column; don’t get me wrong. Ryan Mason received first-class treatment from both Hull’s and Chelsea’s medical teams. Mason’s father has already come out and praised staff at the stadium along with all the staff at St. Mary’s Hospital, London.

Tougher guidelines at stadia have swept into action after the collapse of Fabrice Muamba and other high profile on-the-pitch injuries of seasons gone by.

Cahill, though, must be our primary concern here. Any observer, whether it be through the medium of TV, or live at Stamford Bridge, could see that Cahill was groggy at best, or concussed at worst. How on earth was he allowed to continue? Antonio Conte, Chelsea manager, admitted in his press conference after the game that Gary Cahill “wasn’t really good” at half-time: a full thirty minutes after the horrendous clash of heads.

What is the point of the EPL’s concussion protocol if it is not implemented?

Kenny Sansom (ex-England International) Tweeted:

‘Should Cahill have been subbed as a precaution, after colliding with Mason? I expect he had no pain, or he’d have said, “I’ll come off.” ‘

Coming from Samsom, who played the game at the highest level in the rough and tumble world of football in the 1980s, I find this a remarkable  if not delusional thing to say. I can almost 100% guarantee Cahill felt pain, and 99% guarantee that Sansom would have suffered head injuries and played on: I know I certainly did.

This doesn’t make me a hero, or a martyr, or on the other hand, stupid. It just means that when you are on that pitch, you will do anything to stay on there: pretty much anything at all. So, when the physiotherapist, or doctor, ask you “can you carry on?” the reply is nigh on always, “yes.” Even when the fingers they hold up are blurred, you can always see how many they are holding up and lie that everything is hunky dory.

The question, of course, is why are they asking you if you feel okay to carry on?

Head injuries can be life-threatening injuries and ALL decision-making should be taken out of the hands of the player.

As a professional sports person all you want to do is play and win. You do it at any cost: even to the detriment of your own health. You are fully aware that if you are substituted and that new player comes in and does well, you may not get your place back for months to come. You don’t want to let your teammates and coaching staff down and you drag yourself up off the grass and answer all the nonsensical questions and get on with the job in hand.

Club doctor’s and physio’s are far from the only people at fault here. They are paid by the club and at the mercy of the managers and coaches on the sidelines. I have seen many a member of the medical staff railroaded into changing their decisions about the availability of a player. You can’t even lay all the blame at the feet of the manager, because they are under intense pressure, in a results driven industry.

Of course they are going to do anything within their power to get their best 11 players on the pitch.

These are just some of the reasons why football must have more neutral and impartial staff in attendance. I mean 100% neutral: no affiliation to either club, whatsoever and not even paid for by either club. This is the only way you will get definitive impartiality.

The Premier League must lead by example here. They have to fully fund these medical observers themselves to provide full protection to the players.

The EPL is a gargantuan gravy train that keeps lining the pockets of many, so it’s about time hands are dug deep into those well-lined, decidedly deep pockets and money is found for the necessary medical staff.

The players safety has to take precedent over clubs and the EPL’s incessant greed.


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david@firsttouchonline.com