‘The awful day my lifelong dream of playing rugby for Wales died’
‘You can’t play rugby anymore.’ That was the first thing Matthew Childs heard after waking up in hospital from an injury that left him unconcious. This is his story of broken bones and smashed ambitions – and a helicopter rescue on TV
Every Sunday morning I was welcomed by the soft rings of my alarm. Most people hate the sound of their alarm, but for me it meant so much more. Yes, I should be in bed after a long week of school, but for me Sunday was the most important day of the week. I’d wake up with butterflies in my stomach, nervous about how well I was going to play, but most importantly because I did not want to get knocked out again. Because getting knocked out would mean my dream of playing rugby for the rest of my life would come hurtling to an abrupt and premature end.
Today would be one of the biggest games of the season, My team was playing our rivals, Driffield, so I had to prepare myself for a physical battle, but nothing could fully prepare me for what was going to happen.
Today would also be the last time I ever walked out onto a rugby pitch as a player.
Rugby was everything to me. Having the ball in my hands felt like I was holding a trophy. Being born in Wales meant, without a doubt, rugby is in my blood. I had played rugby since I was nine and remember watching rugby with my parents and seeing the passion they had and instantly knew that I wanted to be the next big rugby star, so my parents could cheer me on. I was only small when I started playing, but as I got older and continued to play, I got stronger and better. I played for a local team called Pocklington. The blue and white kits were snazzy and as soon as I started playing, I knew that this is what I wanted to do for as long as I could.
Eventually I had trials for Yorkshire. At this point it seemed that everything was coming into place. Then injury struck. I broke my shoulder blade and spent the next few weeks attempting to sleep upright while my bone excruciatingly repaired itself.
Then my life repeated. I had another trial for Yorkshire. All these thoughts were racing through my head, ‘How will it feel to score?’ ‘Am I going to play for the county?’ ‘Are my parents watching?’ Then, SMASH. Two players tackled me and tipped me onto my shoulder. The weight of three people came crashing down, snapping my collar bone along with all my dreams.
I returned to the pitch again, but this is where the injuries took a turn. Up until my injuries this had been the best season of rugby for me. We just kept winning, I played every game really well, but most importantly this was the year I went to Welsh Exiles. Welsh Exiles are a development team for those that may not live in Wales, but wish to play for them. I had this hope of going to a university in Wales so I could play rugby and eventually get to play professionally. I kept going to the Welsh Exiles training days and although I was not yet playing for them, I looked forward to the day I could get my first uncapped international match.
I said that this was my favourite season, but it was also the one that I hated the most. My first knockout came hurtling towards me like a boulder down a cliff. Waking up laying on a pitch with coats over me, coaches panicking and my mum and dad worried to death was a scary experience. I had to take six weeks out for a concussion. I was upset. Not the upset where you are crying, but upset where you feel like you have let yourself down. The ‘why has this happened to me?’ mentality.
I bought myself a scrum cap to protect my clearly fragile head and returned six weeks later to one of the only places that felt like home. Yet again though, as soon as I returned, I got knocked out. I was in hospital this time and remember being laid down on a bed for so long that when I got up, I passed out. I hate hospitals. The constant beeping, the boredom, the lights that make your eyes hurt, the length of time you have to wait just to hear anything about when you can go home. The doctors told me that I had to be careful. My first knockout was quick and I wasn’t unconscious for a long time, but for the second one I was unconscious for longer. Again, I had to wait six weeks before I could return, and that day could not have come any sooner.
So, the alarm clock rang that Sunday morning at eight. I was nervous, but I was all good to play this close rival match against Driffield. During my six weeks of recovery all I could think about was being back on the pitch and loving every minute of it. If I only I’d known what was about to happen.
The game was going swimmingly. I was playing really well, and we were winning. The second half came, and it was our kick-off. We kicked the ball high and short as always. I was running towards the flying ball, planning when to jump and contest, but the ball landed sooner than I thought. I charged to make a strong dominant tackle, but as I went in my head connected with an opponent’s shoulder.
Instantly I felt everything coming to an end. My vision started to fade, and then … nothing. All I saw was darkness until I awoke several hours later in hospital with tubes stuck in my arms and a headache that felt like Zeus had just stuck me with a bolt of lightning.
The doctors and my parents looked at me in shock trying to understand why I was unconscious for so long. It turns out I was taken to hospital in a helicopter – which is pretty cool. I have never been in a helicopter so it was a new experience, even if I can’t remember it. The helicopter journey was not any normal ride either because I was filmed for the Helicopter ER TV show.
When the doctor came in to check on me, I had this terrible sense I knew what he was going to say. He said it: I could no longer play rugby, and, in this moment, I experienced my first heartbreak. All my dreams were over. I used to spend every day waiting for the next time I could be on the pitch and now nothing, no dreams, no future in rugby, just nothing.
However, there is a silver lining to my departure. My final moments of rugby were documented on Helicopter ER. I might not be a rugby star, but at least I got on TV.