Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Tribute To Footballers Who Tragically Died Too Young!

While the rest of the footy world argue over the latest diving/cheating scandal, or debate the latest managerial sacking, that of Peterborough boss Darren Ferguson, as the clubs worry about the debts they owe as they try to avoid going into administration, and bookies price up who will last longest, Red's boss Rafa or X-Factor duo Jedward, I am going to discuss a topic most people try to avoid whenever possible, and that is the subject of 'death.'

The death that is of young footballers whose careers were either only just beginning, or in the case of others whose careers were cut off in their prime, when their lives tragically ended. Dying as a result of a playing injury is mercifully rare. The most famous example was Celtic goalkeeper John Thompson, who in 1931 sustained serious head injuries diving at the feet of Rangers' Sam English. He died hours later in hospital, aged 22.

However there has been an upsurge over the years of in players losing their lives through what in the medical world is called 'Sudden Death Syndrome' or 'Sudden Cardiac Death' but to many of us is better known simply as 'heart failure.'

How is the average supporter, who likes a pie and a pint, who never warms up or down before or after his weekly five-a-side game, begin to comprehend such incidents. They must struggle to understand why such tragic events occur!

These mega-rich footballers after all, are fit guys, professional athletes. "It's nothing to do with fitness," according to Dr Craig Panther, of Pure Sports Medicine who has worked with Fulham FC. "There will be some underlying heart problem, something they were born with, have developed, or are suffering as a consequence of a viral illness. It can happen at all levels, we just hear about the professionals."

The risk needs to be kept in perspective. Dr Brian Aarons, formerly Wimbledon's club doctor, who now works with the FA's disability teams, said: "We are not talking about conventional heart attacks – smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. These are rare conditions, a number of different ones, but all of them very rare.
The death that is of young footballers whose careers were either only just beginning or for of some whose careers were cut off in their prime, when their lives tragically ended.

One particular high profile player to lose his life from SDS was Marc-Vivien Foé, 28.
On 26 June 2003, Foé collapsed near the centre circle playing in the Confederations Cup semi-final for Cameroon against Columbia. The death was said to be caused by an enlarged right ventricle. He played for Lens and Lyons and had Premier League spells with West Ham United and Manchester City. Foé scored the last City goal at Maine Road. City retired the No 23 shirt he wore in 2002-03.

The following players also were victims of SDS:

Antonio Puerta, aged 22. The Seville player collapsed 35 minutes into Seville's match with Getafe in 2007. He died of multiple organ failure brought on by a series of prolonged cardiac arrests. Puerta, Seville born-and-bred, left a wife who was seven months pregnant at the time.

Robbie James, 40. The former Swansea City, Stoke City and QPR star died on the pitch playing for Llanelli AFC, where he was player-manager, in 1998. James won 47 caps for Wales.

Phil O’Donnell, 35. The Motherwell midfielder died after collapsing during a match against Dundee United in the Scottish League in 2007. An autopsy revealed he had died of heart failure.

David Longhurst, 25. A striker who began his career in the Nottingham Forest youth team, Longhurst suffered a heart attack playing for York City in 1990. York later named one of the stands at Bootham Crescent after him.

Anton Reid, 16. On 20 August 2007, Anton Reid passed away during training with his club Walsall on their Aston training pitch. He was in his first year with the youth team.

Other football players to have died indirectly at the hands of the 'The Beautiful Game' include:

John White, 27. In 1964 the Spurs star died after being hit by lightning while sheltering under a tree during a round of golf.

Laurie Cunningham, 33. The the first black player to represent England in a competitive match, died in 1989 in a car crash in Madrid. The 33-year-old was in Spain playing for Rayo Vallecano.

Andres Escobar, 27. In 1994 after returning from the World Cup, the Colombian defender was shot dead. His shooting was rumoured to have been ordered by a betting syndicate after Escobar’s own goal led to Colombia’s unexpected first-round exit.

David Rocastle, 33. In February 2001, the former Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea player announced that he was suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer which attacks the immune system. He underwent a course of chemotherapy for the illness and was hopeful of a recovery. But he died in the early hours of 31 March 2001, leaving a wife and four children. Arsenal opened up a new youth team indoor training facility named after him, as a tribute to his contributions to the club.

Aaron Flahavan, 25. In 2001 the Portsmouth keeper died in a car accident near Bournemouth. An inquest heard that Flahavan died as a result of a fractured skull, and his blood alcohol level was nearly three times over the legal limit when he lost control of his BMW sports car. His brother Darryl plays for Crystal Palace.

The hearts of young footballers are screened when they come into the game under a joint initiative by the Football Association and the Professional Footballers' Association, which dates back to 1997. Premier League regulations, and common sense, dictate that clubs continue to monitor players' health. But an ECG screening will not pick up every abnormality.

Antonio Puerta
Laurie Cunningham
David Rocastle
Marc-Vivien Foe

May all those players mentioned in this article R.I.P.

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