The view from a Premier League football club’s medical table
Dr Ian Patchett is chief medical officer at Premier League new boys Leicester City. In today’s big interview, he talks to Sam Chambers about players’ safety and life in the top-flight.
You’ve heard of the names. Wayne Rooney, Angel Di Maria, Cesc Fabreagas et al. Each weekend, they are just a few of many to be afforded a hero’s welcome at football clubs up and down the country.
They drive Bentleys and Ferraris; live in huge mansions and holiday in Dubai and LA. Win or lose – no matter how they play – they are handsomely rewarded for their work.
Then there are those in the background. Away from the cameras and working for a fraction of the players’ wages. Going about their duties with little fanfare or adoration.
The kit men, secretaries, tea ladies and physios to name but a few. The people who make up the very fabric of the clubs that employ them.
Many of these people were around long before most of the players arrived and, most likely, will be around long after they leave.
Leicester City’s club medical officer Dr Ian Patchett is one such stalwart. A man of medicine, but also a football man through and through, he is simply happy “watching good football” as part of his job.
In over two decades at Leicester he has seen wholesale changes. During his time there, there have been dizzying highs and humbling lows. There was even a threat to the club’s very existence during a spell in administration in 2002.
Players and managers came and went. The club moved stadium. The training ground underwent substantial re-development.
Football certainly doesn’t stand still. And, in the era of multi-million pound transfers, where players are treated more as commodities than athletes, the care they receive doesn’t, either.
Patchett says that one of the biggest examples of such change is how clubs are equipped to deal with situations such as on-pitch cardiac arrests, particularly after the harrowing Fabrice Muamba incident in 2012.
“The FA set up the AREA (Advanced Resuscitation and Emergency Aid) course. You have to know what to do if someone collapses,” he says.
“Every team has its own defibrillator. We have to carry certain drugs to keep them ticking over until they can get to hospital and can be treated properly.”
At Leicester, however, it is something that they have prepared themselves with for a while. It was in 2007 when on-loan defender Clive Clarke collapsed during half-time of a League Cup tie at Nottingham Forest. This, says Patchett, sparked the club into taking positive action to ensure that they could be as ready as they can for anything similar in the future.
“It was an away game so I didn’t witness it. It was quite an uplifting one in that the staff that were there got him back and proved they could do it,” explains Patchett.
“It spurred us on to train other people like coaches and sports scientists. The more people that know what to do, the better.
“So, although it was scary at the time, it was quite uplifting.”
Patchett is steadfast in his opinion that no chances should be taken when it comes to somebody’s health, an opinion that is not always shared by managers, highlighted recently with the contentious issue of head injuries.
“Very often you can see it in a player’s eyes. You don’t really need to ask them any questions if they look a bit vacant. “But very often the physio may say ‘He’s gone, he needs to come off.’
“If he thinks that I’d probably agree.”
As if to illustrate his point that even the seemingly innocuous injuries can be far worse than first thought, Patchett recalls an incident involving a fledgling City player, where things almost took a turn for the worst.
“One of the younger players got a kick in the stomach, which didn’t seem too serious at the time. It turned out he’d perforated his bowel and had to be whisked into hospital for an operation.”
A typical week sees Patchett visit the club’s training ground three or four times a week to check on any medical problems, as well as working match days for the under 18s and 21s. He juggles his duties at the club with his part-time work as a GP in the city, and with performing minor surgery for University Hospitals of Leicester.
And following the Foxes’ summer promotion to the Premier League, things have become a little more intense.
“We do home and away. It’s double the workload. It’s a bit more pressure and exposure.
“Everybody is a bit more hyped because of what’s at stake. As far as the medical side goes, it’s all the same even if it was a pub team. You’ve got to know how to react.”
Despite the many changes he has seen over the years, he maintains that there has been one constant throughout his employment at the club.
“When you’re winning, players seem to not be injured, but when they are losing, they are a bit more precious about things,” he says.
“If the team is winning, everyone wants to be in it.”
And with Leicester currently suffering from an alarming downturn in fortune recently, it will be a slump he hopes they can address sooner rather than later.