The elephant in the room: Injury protection in the amateur game

In my 17 years of playing football, I’ve been lucky enough to stay relatively injury free. Bar a potentially serious neck injury as a teenager and an operation at eighteen which prevented me playing for half a season, most of my injuries have been met by quick recoveries. However, there’s always an element of anxiety about injury when you step out on the pitch, and I only have to think back to my time balancing on crutches on the sidelines post-op to heighten that worry three-fold.

So, when I went to play in Spain and was told that I not only had to undertake a medical exam but also had to take out insurance with the RFEF (the Spanish equivalent of the FA), I was pleasantly surprised and the aforementioned anxiety was partially alleviated. I had an ECG, my weight was taken and the doctor checked my breathing and lung capacity. It’s certainly something that I would like to see in the UK in the future – it provides peace of mind and makes sure that any potentially at risk players know what they need to do to stay safe.

My return to England saw me start playing again, but the medical care and insurance to keep players safe was a distant memory of Spain, just like the beach days and sangria were! Too many players here are unaware that the insurance that most football clubs offer will provide minimal protection for individuals, instead protecting the club itself from liability in the case of injury – and this lack of knowledge is worrying.

Throughout my time playing, I’ve seen countless teammates and opponents seriously injured – from ACL tears to broken legs, I’ve witnessed it all. I’ve then seen them wait months and months for referrals, MRIs and treatment, with a number of them missing out on work as a consequence. As an ‘amateur’ player who is involved in the sport for enjoyment, the idea that a single bad tackle, fall or even a dodgy landing could not only end my playing career, but could also impact my work is a pretty awful thought.

Lockdown exacerbates injury worries

The global pandemic and the start-stop nature of football in the last year has only served to worsen that injury anxiety surrounding the game, and for good reason. The lack of real training for months on end, followed by league and cup matches squashed into short periods of time has made players more susceptible to injury – even look at the Premier League and Championship – those players have some of the best behind the scenes support for fitness and injury, yet the pandemic still wreaked havoc and saw an abnormally high number of players injured in a very short period of time.

When we returned from the second lockdown and I was playing regularly, despite running nearly every day during restrictions, my body took a lot to adapt to the ‘normality’ of regular training and playing competitively. It didn’t take long before my body got me back for the stress I was putting it under – achilles tendonitis in my right ankle – caused by acute muscle fatigue. I (stupidly) tried to play through the pain for as long as I could; Having only just got back to what I loved, I wasn’t sure I could accept the heartbreak of being ruled out by injury. However, we all know that when injury strikes, the worst thing to do is carry on – and I paid for my stupidity with some big bills for private physio and recovery sessions.

Now that we’re coming out of our third lockdown, it’s more important than ever for players to protect themselves and their lifestyle against injury. We don’t all have Premier League standard physios or doctors to look after us, and I know how expensive it can be to fund your own treatment (and that was for a non-serious injury!) Nor do we all have the financial stability of Harry Kane-esque salaries that would keep us afloat if we weren’t able to work due to injury.

Joining the Portàs Group as an ambassador at the beginning of this season only brought home the importance of protecting myself from serious injury. Now that we seem to be on a road to non-stop competitive football again, I would urge any player at an amateur level to make sure you know how you’re protected, because I guarantee that your club insurance will not be enough. If I ever have to spend another half a season on the sidelines on crutches, I would feel marginally better in the knowledge that my Portàs Group insurance would help me pay to go private in terms of treatment, and would also cover me partially for loss of earnings.

The question I would ask yourself if you’re not 100% sure about getting insured is ‘why am I putting myself at risk?’ I can tell you categorically that taking that risk isn’t worth it. Save yourself the anxiety and get insured because it’ll only be too late if you end up on the wrong end of that studs up leg-breaking tackle…