Every year the Scottish Players Football Association (PFA) sends a representative in to speak to the players about different initiatives and schemes that are in place for members. More often than not it will be the Aussie Player Liaison, Stuart Lovell, who seems to have been doing this gig for as far as I can remember. Not only was he a very good player in his day, but also an eloquent proactive individual who always seeks to help players within his role at the PFA. This is why it always confuses me when he is faced with apathy and negativity from several players when visiting clubs. He outlines various useful initiatives and opportunities ranging on improving the state of pitches to offering massive discounts on football boots, cars and even foreign currency. Yet, some don’t even attempt to feign an interest.
Anyway, when he discussed player injuries, I really sat up and listened. Now he wasn’t discussing slight tears, slight strains or the extra stones of weight Yano has decided to play with during his whole career (he’s back) but the long term injuries that require a scan or an operation. In particular, that professional clubs in Scotland are very rarely insuring their players against this. It is something which I have observed at teams I have played for and this was really driven home by a tweet I read from the ever so handsome Craig “Mango” Barr (see below). He tore his cruciate ligaments playing for a full time club (yes, full time) and had to fund the operation himself via a team mate whip round. Scary stuff, especially in a country where many managers treasure the hatchet man.
In Scotland, what we lack in terms of quality we make up for in passion. Although slightly clichéd, if you attend a lower league game there is a good chance you will see several full blooded challenges ranging from strong fair tackles to the straight out assaults. Although I have done absolutely no scientific research, you would imagine this 100mph style is likely to increase the likelihood of injuries. This is without even considering the less than acceptable playing surfaces at certain stadiums – which brings me onto the hot potato of synthetic pitches.
I have recently read bits and pieces and heard comments from fellow players lambasting artificial pitches as a contributor to injuries and I can definitely understand some of the complaints. Due to its fairly recent introduction, players in their thirties will have only started playing on this type of turf halfway through their career – maybe it does contribute to wear and tear for the more experienced statesmen. However, at the age of 28, I am no spring chicken and I have experienced playing and training on artificial pitches from as far back as I can remember and I’m still fine. Well at least I think I am…
From my experience, there is no difference in terms of aches and pains from playing on a GOOD artificial pitch to a grass pitch – in fact, you are more likely to fall down a pot hole at Cliftonhill. It would be, however, disingenuous to argue that there are no effects to playing on a bad artificial pitch. Unfortunately, this is the state of play in Scotland. A brand spanking new synthetic pitch will lose its gleam within 3-4 years due to the overkill. These pitches will be hired out and used all day in order to generate money for the club. Clubs will seek to milk the cow dry for financial gain, and although completely understandable, it is little consolation to professional players who are expected to go out and risk injury on a weekly basis. Falkirk, Forfar and Clyde all have pitches which were at one stage fantastic facilities but are badly in need of being re-laid. If these clubs decided they are going for the synthetic option, I believe they should be prepared to re-lay these on a more regular basis. There is an excellent article in “Nutmeg” magazine touching on this issue by ex Saints, Falkirk and Queens Park man David Weatherston – highly recommend you seek this out.
Anyway, I digress… This may or may not contribute to player injuries but the lack of player medical insurance in Scottish football is both baffling and worrying. In a physical contact sport where injury is a likely risk, it genuinely boggles the mind why clubs aren’t forced by law to legally cover their players. I am not aware of any part time clubs which do this, effectively leaving your odds of successful recovery in the hands of the gods or in the cut throat hands of the club hierarchy.
When a player requires an operation, it is up to the clubs discretion whether they are willing to pay for it or willing to make you wait for an NHS operation. If you are unfortunate enough to suffer an injury which requires an operation then you better pray that you are one of the club’s star players. This is where a huge problem arises, a club might pay the costs for the 20 goal a season striker but if you are an out of form midfielder going through a tough spell (been there before) then you are out on your arse. It is quite simply a popularity contest with the club assuming the Simon Cowell role and the plucky player looking to attract 4 yes’s in order to get his leg back.
After suffering a serious injury – I would imagine that it is difficult enough facing the reality that you won’t kick a ball for a year, never mind contemplating if and when you will be provided with the correct treatment. I have played with many players who have required an operation and in some cases the clubs have covered the costs, Michael Travis at Forfar and Stevie Doris at Arbroath spring to mind, but there have been several who were in the last few months of their contract who have not been afforded that same luxury. They have had to face not playing football for as long as a year coupled with a drastic loss in earnings. Nobody in the lower leagues is going to sign a player who requires an operation.
As I look enviously over the border, English clubs as low down as amateur have more medical insurance/cover than the Scottish Lower Leagues. In some cases, they provide compensation for loss of earnings from the day job. I’m not asking for that but some of the inequality could quite easily be addressed by Scottish clubs insuring their players for a small weekly cost rather than club pushing all their chips in, banking on an injury free campaign.
Of course it is not fair to compare the English PFA to the Scottish PFA; the truth is they have substantially more members due to having more clubs. Just like any other union out with the goldfish bowl of professional football; the more members, the more powerful the organisation. I can’t help but think that if more players in Scotland shelved their stubborn, “what have the PFA ever done for me” attitude and jumped on board, the opportunities could be endless for the players – and maybe at the very least, force some type of medical cover. Is that too much to ask?