The professional footballer runs the risk of the worst occupational hazard going every single time he runs onto the pitch. Most of us employed in much less physical vocations, will have our own worries over what could curtail our careers, but these are hardly going to happen as publicly or have such far reaching consequences to our employer. Many players have had to call time on a very success and fruitful time in Association Football, but this is normally time catching up with the individual in question. They are no longer nineteen anymore, more like thirty-nine, and the ol’ body is not what it used to be. The mind is just as quick, just as sharp, but the feet and legs no longer are. I’m writing this article looking back at some of the unlucky fellows over the years who have had to call time on a career full of promise and should have lasted more years than they did. Everton midfielder Bryan Oviedo was the latest player to suffer a terrible injury during a game (the recent cup tie with Stevenage), but with medical science and technology having developed and evolved to what it is today, it’s rare a player cannot recover and return to action within a few months. Arsenal players Eduardo and Aaron Ramsay are testament to this in the last few seasons, so there is a healthy chance Costa Rica International Oviedo will make a full recovery. However, this was not always the case.
Ol’ Big ‘Ed was an incredibly prolific goal scorer for his home town club Middlesbrough during the late fifties, and continued this form when he transferred to North-East neighbours Sunderland. Clough had broken record after record (some of which still yet to be equalled, let alone beaten in the Football League), and showing no signs of slowing down would have set the First Division alight. The F.A would have been unable to ignore his undoubted ability much longer, and Clough should have become a regular in the full international team alongside Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Charlton during the sixties. I’d even be as bold as to say he would have played for his nation in the 1966 World Cup Final.
Clough’s playing career effectively ended on Boxing Day 1962, when in an accidental collision with the Bury ‘keeper Chris Harker, Clough ruptured the medial and cruciate ligaments in his right knee. He was twenty-nine years old. After a long lay-off, much physiotherapy and an aborted come back, it was clear Clough was no longer the player he was, having lost much of his pace and strength on the ball. His vision, drive and skill were never diminished, but he – and his club – had to face the facts. His playing days were over.
Nowadays, this sort of injury can be treated, repaired and corrected, the player returning to action months later. The one saving grace for football, is this death of an exciting playing career with much potential yet to be delivered, led to one of the most successful English managers in football history.