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Monday 24 September 2012

In safe hands: Taking care of player safety

Find out how the work of club medics has changed over the last 20 seasons of the Premier League

Mark Gillett, right, says there has been plenty of improvements in medical provision

There is an argument for saying nothing has changed across the 20 seasons of the Premier League: it’s still 11 v 11 and the Premier League trophy of the first season season doesn’t look that different to the 20th. But behind the scenes much has changed, particularly in the support given to the players. To see why this is the case we look at the work of three men whose professionalism affects what happens on every Premier League match weekend.

In our second feature, we hear from West Bromwich Albion's head of medical services Mark Gillett, who has also worked for Chelsea and the English Institute of Sport.

Gillett helped to draw up guidelines for the medical treatment of footballers after Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech suffered a fractured skull in 2006 against Reading, who are West Brom's opponents this Saturday, talks about how things have changed and how what he suggested helped to save the life of Bolton Wanderers' Fabrice Muamba.

"I have been working in this field for 15 years now. In the early stages, football was always considered to be a long way behind Olympic sports in terms of the professionalism of what it provided for the players from a science and medicine perspective. I am pretty confident now that we’ve matched and gone past them.

"The pace of the game is so different now, and there will possibly be less contact injuries because of the way people tackle these days. But what has improved is our ability to impact on the injuries and get the players back in a really quick time frame. That’s the
big difference for us.

"What happened with Petr Cech was a warning sign. He had quite a nasty head injury that got picked up in an appropriate time frame, but there wasn’t really the infrastructure and process to make sure that if that had happened somewhere else there would have been the same outcome.

"In terms of the Fabrice Muamba incident, I have absolutely no doubt that the changes that were made post-Cech – and the level of awareness, training and equipment – were a massive factor in him having such a good outcome.

"They picked up what had happened with Fabrice as quickly as possible and gave him the best possible chance of survival, so that’s a massive credit to the Premier League. It
was the speed of diagnosis, the understanding of what needed to happen. One of the fundamental changes was making sure that there was an ambulance devoted to the players.

"The medical provision in the Premier League has changed massively. You generally have a couple of physios sitting on the bench. If something happens you get to players very quickly and start the treatment as soon as they are injured, so you minimise the damage to the player.

"The equipment, the exit routes, who does what in terms of taking people to hospital, and how that works, is now very clearly prescribed by the Premier League. It’s not left to the discretion of clubs.

"The Premier League supports the baseline work that we need to do. For instance, if you are applying for a UEFA licence via the Premier League but your doctors have not passed an area course, and you don’t have cardiac screening records, you can’t get it. They have put medical criteria higher up the agenda so the clubs have to take them seriously."

Click here to read the Premier League 2011/12 Season Review

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Key Points

  • There have been lots of changes behind the scenes over the 20 seasons of the Premier League
  • Pitch preparation, sports science and medical care have advanced greatly
  • Head of medical services Mark Gillett speaks about his job at West Brom