Professional players ARE human after all – Relocating is not a fun game

Yep it is that time of the year again. When the media is flooded with the latest news of this player moving from this Club to the other, this Club making the multimillion pound offer to the one abroad, the fancy new house this player has recently acquired,…,

I don’t recall I have ever seen among all those numbers, details and fancy stuff anyone saying on the news:

“Oh poor them what a life moving from one country to the other, dragging family along, not understanding the cultural change, the social cues, dealing with the massive pressure the Club and the fans are putting on this new player”

A professional player is a human being after all, right? Yep, some of them look like something out of this world, they do incredible things but they all struggle as much as any other professional relocating through work. Especially when partners and families are moved around too and these don’t have the right support from the very beginning of the process.










This is what we have approached in our latest article in the special Relocation issue at FC Business Magazine. If you want to read all about it just follow the link SecurelyBe is on page 24:

Premier League to League Two, the coach, the physio,…, anyone involved in a relocation will need and should have the extra support to be able to “hit the ground working”, as well as being able to thrive during the transition.

Then and there is where SecurelyBe is the right partner. Before, during and long after your arrival.

Welcome to England!

Follow on Twitter: @SecurelyBe

How Digital Signage & AV Boost Sales Across the Football Spectrum…

Firstly, it’s great to contribute to the fcbusiness blog, what a privilege. Secondly, did you enjoy the World Cup and did you notice the magnificent digital signage globe that graced the opening ceremony?

Although a new Sky Bet Football League season has begun, and the Barclays Premier League kick off is on the horizon, here at Armagard the World Cup is still stuck firmly in our heads with two things in particular refusing to disappear from our thoughts:

1)      Surprising score lines! Namely the Netherlands beating Spain & ‘that’ unforgettable Germany-Brazil game. The results certainly raised eyebrows in the office among our international account managers, resulting in a bit of harmless banter.

2)      That awesome digital signage globe. Quite frankly, it was unmissable, taking centre stage at one of football’s biggest events and causing a trending storm on Twitter.


Digital Signage Globe, World Cup Opening Ceremony, Brazil 2014.

It’s the latter that got us thinking. How far have digital signage & AV solutions come in boosting sales for club and country during major international tournaments & domestic competitions?

The answer! Very far. It will come as no surprise to you that the fastest growing market for digital signage deployment in 2014 is Brazil. Football tournament organisers are recognising the influence of digital signage at major competitions, renting out systems to power house brands, such as Adidas and Nike, who reaped the rewards of fantastic digital advertising campaigns.

Adidas alone saw a 41% increase in the sale of soccer products as a result of widespread digital advertising throughout the World Cup.

Digital Signage – Driving Sales throughout Football’s Hierarchy

Arguably, digital signage has enjoyed the most success in football as part of retail strategies. Club shops, stadium food outlets, concession stands & concourses have become key, digital signage installation hotspots. Why? Because they influence fans at the ‘point of sale’. In particular, digital signage enhances sales of football paraphernalia during major club and country tournaments.

The great thing about digital signage is that it’s not only the upper echelons of football benefitting from its impact. Clubs at grassroots level are also reaping the benefits, widely using it to promote their brand.

In fact, digital signage has become a common feature at grassroots events, such as the Grassroots Football Show, staged at the NEC in Birmingham.

Even football coaching schools are cashing in, renting space & digital signage stands at schools and sports centres for advertising purposes.

Where’s the Evidence of Digital Signage Impact in Football?

An article, recently published by Armagard, refers to information provided by Essential Retail regarding the impact of digital signage at two of Europe’s leading clubs, Arsenal FC & FC Barcelona.

FC Barcelona recently invested in a 16-metre-wide LED screen, which now provides the focal point of their club shop. The store was also fitted with digital signage kiosks, giving fans an interactive buying experience. Since the refit of the store, Barcelona has reported a 22% increase in the sales of personalised shirts.

Meanwhile, Arsenal’s director of retail, Simon Lilley said: “Digital signage has been hugely beneficial in promoting our stadium tours. The stadium tours now start and end in the club shop – with the retail team confident that around 50% of those who take the tour throughout the year will purchase an item in-store.”

What can Digital Signage and AV Solutions do for you?     

The evidence speaks for itself. They can drive sales, improve customer service and speed up transactions, delivering an excellent return on investment. Digital signage and AV solutions are long-term, there’s no shelf-life for advertising, content can be quickly changed keeping your message current.



Armagard LCD enclosures update customers at Euro 2012.

They reduce the pressure & congestion on tills. One of the biggest benefits noted by stadium staff at major tournaments or domestic games is that digital signage, used as a transactional unit, gives customers a quick service option.

This has proven to be particularly beneficial during halftime, when stadiums have just 15 minutes to serve potentially thousands of customers.

Digital signage broadens the number of people that can be reached to the extent where teams, both club and country, can open up new revenue streams that were not possible before or never existed.

Ask Armagard

So, you’re probably thinking you want a piece of this digital signage action, but who do I consult?

Well, Armagard is no stranger to providing digital signage and AV solutions for major football tournaments. 485 of our LCD units, a mixture of 42” & 52” sizes, were installed across stadiums for Euro 2012 in Poland & Ukraine.


Armagard at Euro 2012, Poland & Ukraine.

Our units can also be found at football stadiums throughout Europe, including the Rubin Kazan Stadium in Russia and the National Arena in Bucharest, Romania.

You can wall, stand, ceiling or floor mount units from our range of next generation digital signage solutions. Better still, you can customise them to suit your needs and to match the aesthetics of the environment.

Get Involved

There’s no escaping it, digital signage & AV is driving business across the beautiful game. The commercialisation of football continues to grow at a rapid pace, effecting all levels of the football spectrum.

You’ve seen it here, statements from retail directors of Europe’s leading clubs, digital signage lighting up the world stage and making an impact at grassroots level. It’s time you got involved, digital signage should be part of your football club or country’s marketing plan. For digital signage that delivers, tour the Armagard website or call 0121 608 7208 to request a brochure…

Thanks for reading and happy new season. Let the drama begin!

Follow Armagard on social media >>>      @Armagard

Financial Fair Play in football has given marketing and data management a major boost

sa_blog_header_0 The FIFA World Cup is now a distant memory and we’re back to the domestic merry-go-round as we head towards the new season. Which players are your team signing? How much are they spending? How much are they allowed to spend?

FIFA’s legacy to the club game, Financial Fair Play (FFP) is shaping a new approach. FFP is a rule which prohibits clubs spending more than they earn. For some it’s an unnecessarily restrictive practice that only football could bestow upon itself, while for others it’s a justified, protective napkin placed in the lap of clubs who can’t feed themselves properly. Fans (naturally) don’t like it, teams are (predictably) wrestling with it, but for the marketers, I think it presents a tremendous opportunity.

The focus, of course, is on transfer budgets, player salaries and overall accountability, but has anyone stopped to consider how FFP will impact upon a club’s day-to-day diet of customer relationships and one-to-one marketing?

The demand that spending should be balanced by operational income means the link to data management is, for me, fairly obvious.

FFP drives the whole issue of income beyond the owner’s pocket and into regular revenue streams. If approached correctly, FFP is not restrictive, it’s a massive marketing opportunity.

The need to generate income is reflected in everything a data management company like Sports Alliance, does for its clients. Product and business development is a process which effectively ‘talks’ to the true supporters who follow the club and spend money. The club wants more of that type of fan of course, but the fan is also a vehicle to support wider income generation. At the top level, massive TV exposure brings in shirt sponsors and kit manufacturers who love the guaranteed visibility. Clubs sell the branded shirts to the fans and visibility feeds popularity – popularity feeds visibility.

TV revenue is wonderful in its own right but the bonus-ball is that live games project your ‘brand’ across the globe to all those who can’t come to the ground. Based on ‘eyeballs’, it’s a tremendous deal all round and yes, it certainly helps the shirt-selling business.

But what if the TV companies become less interested? For starters, if you don’t continue putting ‘bums on seats’ and the stadium looks empty, the product becomes diluted. The conundrum is that TV provides an opportunity to watch outside the stadium in homes across the world, but the stadium still has to be full to make it appealing. While it is, you have a marketing opportunity with the billions who are watching across the oceans so it’s in your interest to ensure the mystique of a competition that’s played thousands of miles away doesn’t dissipate. It’s the fans that give it gravitas, so the fans must be embraced. Good CRM conducted by clubs can safeguard that process and actually support growth over the long term.

Behind the FFP headlines, it’s clear that clubs are now looking to tap into good data management and customer relations and thus, increase their longer-term earnings. It works for clubs at any level too because the local market is still vital and one you ignore at your peril – even if if you’re world famous. This is exactly where data control comes into play – whatever level you play at – and where the next step, Propensity Management then comes into its own.

On a supporter database, the propensity for a fan who watches on TV in Asia to actually buy a season ticket for their favoured club, is clearly going to be less than a supporter of any club who lives locally. But the fan in Asia can still buy merchandise. Good CRM will afford greater earning power over the longer term and Propensity Management identifies the likelihood of a fan anywhere in the world to engage in a certain way. Understanding what they’re likely to want – or not want – then develops a communications’ relationship that is enjoyed by both sides of the deal.

FFP dictates that in the coming years, the level of equity investment an owner can make to offset operational losses will diminish, so something has to give. Operational income is being given far greater emphasis by FFP than before, because non-compliance can result in competitive sanctions or even tournament bans.

Of course, there is always the short-term option of making the most of your current contract-driven popularity and adding another nought to the next sponsorship deal. All you do then is shove the players on yet another plane for one more exhibition game. But what about all those eyeballs finally viewing the players at close quarters? If you can tap into their potential, you can use a solid CRM approach to develop a long-term income stream that eases the path towards FFP compliance.

In which case, why wouldn’t you?

We Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

After a busy few months catering for all manner of events, from concerts to graduations, Sunderland AFC subsidiary 1879 Events Management is expanding even further with the launch of a new bistro.

The Beach House, at Marine Walk, Roker, will serve as a contemporary café and bistro, offering seaside eating with an upmarket twist.

This includes a modern lunch menu, showcasing locally-sourced produce and fresh seafood, along with an array of burgers, hot dogs and freshly-prepared sandwiches, as well as a bespoke children’s menu and a unique ice-cream, popcorn and candy bar.

Former SAFC players Jimmy Montgomery and Kevin Ball officially open the Beach House alongside members of the Sunderland-Ladies

Former SAFC players Jimmy Montgomery and Kevin Ball officially open the Beach House alongside members of the Sunderland Ladies football team.

It’s been a hectic few weeks trying to get the venue ready to open in time for the Sunderland International Airshow, which will bring thousands of visitors past its front door, but I’m pleased to say we did it.

The Beach House officially opened on Saturday (July 19) with a family fun day attended by hundreds of guests of all ages – and will now open from 10am until 5pm Monday to Friday and until 6pm at weekends.

The official launch was a great day and I’m sure the venue will make a great addition to the portfolio of 1879 Events Management, which already manages catering and events at the Stadium of Light and National Glass Centre, Sunderland, as well as contributing to the overall diversification of the services being offered by SAFC.

You can read more about it at or

My day as a pro athlete with Michael Johnson Performance & Perform at St. George’s Park

In my blissful little world, I’m a super fit Adonis that can run ultramarathons on a whim and laughs at the burger munching loafs that inhabit most town centres. But then I arrived at St George’s Park for a training day at the Michael Johnson Performance (MJP) centre and Perform.

Home of the elite, everything here seems precise and toned…except me!

After an early drive from Durham to Burton Upon Trent, I arrived at St George’s Park where I was handed a MJP tech t-shirt and sent to get changed. First point of call was to watch some of the footballers signed up to the Michael Johnson Performance pre-season training camp.

Lance Walker - MJP Global Performance Director

Lance Walker – MJP Global Performance Director

Out on one of St. George’s Park’s pristine pitches, a group of footballers that includes Burnley’s new recruit, Marvin Sordell are being put through a routine that includes running and jumping and stretching. It looks like any other football training routine but overseeing this is session is Lance Walker, MJP Global Performance Director shouting orders whilst Michael Johnson himself patrols the field assessing the athletes.

Michael Johnson watches over the pros as they're put through their paces.

Michael Johnson watches over the pros as they’re put through their paces.

The session looks tough; the players look not tired but suitably warmed up, the assembled media look nervous as we’re here to be put through our paces in the same manner. After a brief time we’re ushered into the Perform Centre where we’re split into groups and put through a round of exercises that will test our strength, balance and all round fitness. First up is the jump test which can, apparently, determine how well you are likely to perform in a sprint. Literally how high you can jump can tell so much about your athleticism explains our instructor.


Squat then a count of three and jump – 27cm is my first jump and I’m impressed. Second attempt is squat then jump, this will give an indication of my explosive power. 23.3cms, surely this should be higher? Apparently, I lack strength in my legs so I would be advised to hit the gym and work on this. I’m not happy, I run up and down big hills for hours on end each and every week. then we’re told the elite athletes can jump as high as 50cm and higher. I best hit the gym!

Y Balance Test

Y Balance Test

Next up is the Y balance test. This tests a person’s risk for injury as well as demonstrating functional symmetry. Pete Lansley from Vauxhall’s media team shows off his perfect blend of unbalance and lack of symmetry. I don’t get to go on this as time pushes on.




As I leave the Perform Centre, the wall is adorned with the quote, “It’s just hard work and grafting. Then anything is possible!” by some bloke called Mo Farah.

mo quote

We make our way to the indoor arena with its 3G replica Wembley sized pitch. In the centre circle the England Women’s Under 19 squad is going through a few drills under the watchful eye of senior team manager, Mark Simpson. The gathered media and I wait nervously as Brock Christopher, MJP-GB Performance Director walks in with his gang of enforcers. They’re quite clearly not a bunch of heavies in the traditional sense but each is bulked up to the max and takes no prisoner when it comes to executing each and every drill in the correct manner.

Michael Johnson whipping us into shape!

Michael Johnson whipping us into shape!

We begin the session under the watchful eye of Michael Johnson who’s made his way down from the session with the pros to have a laugh at us moaning and groaning as we’re made to stretch and move limbs in ways that are unnatural to us. After half an hour of running and prancing and squatting and jumping and loads of odds things we’re not used to we then start the drills which will make us efficient, powerful and explosive sprinters. It all seems a little absurd but with each individual drill serving a specific purpose, when combined as a whole each of us feels like an Olympic champion sprinter. Just a little slower!

After a much needed break for lunch we head to the hydrotherapy suite for a rehabilitation and recovery session. In the pool we’re took through a few routines aimed at stretching sore muscles under the resistance of the water. Lots of giggling and floating around in no particular fashion ensued. After being made to work hard in the pool, we were ushered over to the Hydroworx pool.

Recovery and Rehabilitation in the Hydrotherapy Suite

Recovery and Rehabilitation in the Hydrotherapy Suite

For those that don’t know, Hydroworx designs and builds rehab and exercise pools with built-in underwater treadmills and I’d been particularly looking forward to having a go on it. The are only eight of these in the UK and this one at St George’s Park is the only one available for public use so when our instructor for the session asked for volunteers to give it a go I was straight up.

Standing on the deck, I and another guy were lowered into the pool to just above our waist. Straight ahead sat a bank of monitors, screens and other technical equipment that wouldn’t look out of place in a NASA control room. The treadmill was then set into action at a pace equal to a light jog. Running at this pace for a few minutes the instructor ups the speed whilst explaining the technical capabilities of the equipment and physical benefits to an athlete. Then the jets are turned on to add some resistance. Despite the water taking away some of the relative strain running places on the joints it’s still hard work to run and the extra effort the jets are adding is making it more and more difficult (along the air that is collecting in my shorts).

After about ten minutes the speed is lowered on the treadmill and we’re returned to dry land. Following my efforts on the treadmill we’re then led to the plunge pools for a cold/hot treatment. The single most awful thing about intensive training and the need for rehabilitation and recovery has to be the ice bath. Not quite frozen over, but cold enough to bring a tear to your eye we’re told to get into the cold plunge pool for two minutes. For me, the depth is just above my waist for some of the shorter members of the press pack it’s upwards of their chest.

This is the longest two minutes ever in what is designed to make the blood vessels contract pushing the blood full of toxins and lactic acids up through the heart to be dispensed of. After what seems a lifetime were offer the ultimate luxury of two minutes in the divine warmth of the Jacuzzi to let the blood vessels reopen and allow clean blood to return to the legs and aid recuperation. But these two minutes are short lived and its back into the cold pool – I’m beginning to believe the devil is in the room!

After a further two minutes in the warmth of the Jacuzzi, that’s it, our day at St. George’s Park is done. I’ve been stretched and twisted and contorted by the excellent staff at MJP and Perform, I’ve marvelled at the seemingly different language these guys use – a indication of the level of expertise they have in their field.

I’ve been given taste of life as a pro athlete and their quest for that bit extra that makes them, in the words of Lance Walker ‘Version 2.0′ from when they walked in.

Aaron Gourley – Deputy Editor, fcbusiness mangazine

Follow on Twitter @aaronfcb

Images courtesy of Macesport

The Sound of Music

It’s been a crazy couple of months but our summer of concerts has finally drawn to a close.

For the last few years, the Stadium of Light has made use of the break in the football calendar to host high profile concerts by the likes of Rihanna, Take That and Bon Jovi.

This year was no exception, with more than 80,000 music fans visiting the stadium for two amazing gigs, featuring some of music’s biggest stars.

First up, and needing little introduction, was international superstars One Direction, who opened the UK leg of their ‘Where We Are’ 2014 World Tour in Sunderland in May.

More recently the stadium played host to blinkbox music North East Live 2014, featuring live performances by Rizzle Kicks, The Saturdays, Jason Derulo, Katy B, Union J, The Vamps, Austin Mahone, Neon Jungle and Rixton, along with the day’s headliner Jessie J.

This family-friendly extravaganza, which ran for more than eight hours, followed the success of the first North East Live in 2013 and attracted almost 35,000 visitors, spanning all ages.

While the relatively young crowds at both events did pose some challenges, these were overcome with the help of our key partners and it was fantastic to see so many people enjoying the facilities here at the Stadium of Light.

Together, these concerts have helped boost the regional economy by an estimated £7m, adding to the £56m already generated through previous gigs.

We’re now working towards summer 2015 and hope to make more exciting announcements very soon.

Street Child or Person?

 “When they see me on the streets, they say I am a street child, when they see me playing football, they say I am a person”

In the shadows of the stadia where some of the worlds richest footballers are playing this summer, life for many is a struggle against poverty, drugs and murder. In the wake of the World Cup, the new infrastructural developments and construction of stadia have left Brazilian taxpayers with a considerable bill. With protestors having limited political representation and the promise of economic gain taking precedent over the monetary and social costs for the poor, the slum dwellers can only hope the Brazilian government spend their profits on providing better education and health care.

Until then, it is the responsibility of those passionate about football to explore the possibilities of utilising the beautiful game to benefit the entire community. The favelas hold a particular significance to the footballing culture in Brazil, big names in the game including Ronaldo, Zico and Romário all started out by playing football in the small shanty towns they called home. Jair Ventura Filho, better known as Jairzinho, is recognised for being the only player to score at every stage of the World Cup, but now he is a legend in the favelas for the free football training he offers to poor carioca youngsters, who are seeking escape through football.

This idea of providing an alternative for underprivileged children at risk of falling into organised crime has led to the creation of football based education projects all over Brazil. The Football Beyond Borders Legacy Project supported local families to provide accommodation to international fans during the World Cup, as well as organising a ‘Favela World Cup’ for residents of local communities to play against international fans. As a result, 40 young people from the community have reached a basic conversational level of English and £3000 of direct investment went into placing roads into the accommodation so tourists can continue to stay in the future.

Street Child World Cup (in association with Save the Children) is a global movement for street children to receive the protection, rehabilitation and opportunities that all children are entitled to. In April 2014 over 230 former street children from 19 countries participated in a football tournament in Rio de Janeiro to promote the importance of children’s rights.

Favela Street (operating under the wings of IBISS) uses football as a tool to improve the communicative, organisational and social skills of ex-soldados who have turned their life around. Using a four month program, these youngsters learn to become good sports coaches and act as role models for children of the project, who can only join in if they go to school. As a result of the Favela Street project, attendance in schools has risen from 40% to 98% since the program started, encouraging more children to make the right decisions and avoid the crimes that may have led to the death of their friends and family.

Young people who have suffered trauma, abuse or neglect lose touch with their instinctive and childish urge to hope, dream and express themselves. In every Favela there is always room for a football pitch, always space for a goal made from two flip flops, and always plenty to see for spectators with the power to change a child’s life, for good.

Written by Emma Wilis

Follow on Twitter: @EmmaWillis91


There’s nothing like a bit of Powerchair Football to get the adrenaline going!

Adapted from the worldwide game, Powerchair Football is the fastest growing sport in the world. It provides the opportunity for disabled people to participate in sport. The game is played in modified wheelchairs that have bumpers to hit an oversized ball.

Powerchair football is similar to the running game but it has some rule variations to make the sport as competitive as possible and it is played on indoor basketball courts.

What about the rules?

Any Powerchair can be used to play, but most competitors have sports powerchairs which help protect the players feet and improve contact with the ball.

‘The Striker’ is the original Powerchair Football attachment. This is designed for, and suitable to use on the majority of Powerchairs – it is also fully adjustable.

The Pitch must be hard and smooth and of course level for easy maneuverability.

The ball is 13-inch football.

The team is made up of 8 players, with 4 players on the pitch at any time. One of these players must be the goalkeeper. A team can have as many substitutes as it wants – giving more players the chance to take part.

A match is 40 minutes long. This is played in two 20-minute halves, with a 10 minute break.

Tackling is only allowed with the bumper, if any other part of the wheelchair is used, a foul is called and a free kick awarded

Only 2 players from the defending team may enter the penalty area at any one time.

It’s a fast and furious game full of thrills.

People who wish to join the team should contact John Gilmore on 07973 522204 or you can email John here.

Staying On The Ball For The World Cup

As everyone is likely to be aware, what with office sweepstakes (Honduras anyone?) and holiday requests, the 2014 World Cup is almost upon us. Nina Robinson, Head of Legal Services at HR Legal Service gives us an overview on the employment issues that employers should be aware of during the tournament.

Kick-off is tomorrow on Thursday 12 June 2014 and the final is to be held on 13 July 2014. As with any large sporting events, there are a few employment issues that employers should be aware of including:

» annual leave requests
» sickness absence
» fitness to work
» website use during working hours

Annual Leave

Employers might well see an increase in requests for last minute annual leave as teams progress through the stages. A company’s annual leave policy should give guidance as to how to book time off. However, during events like the World Cup, employers may wish to consider being more flexible when allowing leave, with the understanding that this is a temporary arrangement. For instance, if you normally require 2 weeks’ notice before granting a holiday request, you may decide to allow a degree of flexibility for this limited period, on the understanding that this is an exception.

Sickness Absence

It will probably be worth reiterating your sickness absence policy, including your absence reporting procedures, reinforcing the fact that employees will still be expected to comply with this during the World Cup. In other words, make it clear that a text sent to their friend at 11.00 to say they can’t come in because they drank too much the night before will not be acceptable and if anyone is found to be abusing the sickness absence policy then this will be dealt with as a formal disciplinary matter.

Fitness to Work

Brazil is four hours behind the UK so many games will take place after work hours. However, this can raise issues in itself. For instance, employees may stay out late to watch matches and then attend work either tired from the night before or still under the influence from those post-match celebratory/commiseratory drinks. Employers should make it clear to employees that they will be expected to attend work in a fit state to work and should outline how unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with. The key is to be clear about your expectations and then consistent in terms of enforcing them.

Website use during work hours

Employers should make sure that they have a clear policy in place about internet use. However, you might also decide that, during events like the World Cup, you are prepared to be flexible in relation to that policy, for instance, by allowing employees to watch/listen to matches while at work, on the understanding that work is still completed and to the appropriate standard. Whilst the aforementioned time difference will make this less of an issue in workplaces operating standard office hours, employers operating shift patterns may want to put in place such contingency procedures. This sort of flexibility can increase morale and decrease issues such as unauthorised absences. However, there is certainly no obligation on employers to permit this.

There may be an increase in the use of social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook. Again, employers should have a strong policy in place that they can stick to, or make it clear what the exceptions are during the World Cup.

They think it’s all over…

In all of the above examples, the main points to remember are clarity, communication and consistency. Have a clear position on something, communicate it to your employees and then stick to it.

It is now.

A final point to note is that employers should remember that they should not assume that all employees will be supporting England. If exceptions are made for England matches, they will need to be made for employees supporting other teams.

Race Against Time For Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

After suffering medial knee ligament damage during England’s warm-up game against Ecquador, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain faces a race against time to be declared fit for England’s three group games in Brazil.  

Dr. Charlotte Cowie - Perform at St. George's Park

Dr. Charlotte Cowie – Perform at St. George’s Park

Dr.Charlotte Cowie of Perform St. George’s Park takes a look at the injury that affects so many footballers.

The Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) of the knee is an important ligament which runs along the inside of the knee from the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (main lower leg bone).It is one of the structures that allows the knee joint to move as a hinge without moving from side to side as it bends and straightens. If the knee is twisted or forcefully moved to the side, the ligament can become overstretched, torn and damaged. This is relatively common in football and is the most frequent knee ligament injury. The action of side-footing a ball,  coming into contact with another player where the inside of the lower leg is struck or catching the foot in the pitch so that the knee twists above  it will all put stress through the ligament and can result in injury.

Most MCL tears involve some but not all of the fibres being torn. If this is the case, the knee does not usually need surgery, but does need careful rehabilitation. If the ligament heals in a lengthened position, then the ligament which is one of the main steadying forces of the knee will be unstable in the long term and can become painful with actions such as kicking a football. If a player returns too early to football training, the ligament can become painful, or other muscles around the knee can start to compensate, causing related problems.

Complications can also arise if the MCL is very forcefully ruptured. This will pull the knee joint apart on one side and can result in cartilage or anterior cruciate ligament damage at the same time.

The usual rehabilitation of an MCL injury will involve care in not over-stressing the ligament in the initial phase – rest ice and compression as with most acute sporting injuries and work to regain the hinge movement of the knee. Treatment will then proceed to careful straight line work which does not pull the ligament out of line, making sure that any weakened muscles are strengthened to support the area. Once a player can comfortably run in a straight line again, change of direction work, cutting and twisting will gradually be built in, finally progressing to striking the ball. A long side-footed pass is the most stressful non-contact element of the game and can remain painful for some time after all other elements have recovered.

If the ligament is slow to settle an injection can help to treat the last remaining elements of inflammation. The time for recovery from this type of injury depends on what proportion of the ligament fibres have been torn. A grade 1 (a few fibres torn) may only take 3 weeks or less. The higher the grade the longer it will take, and a grade 3 injury (fully ruptured) would frequently take months.

An operation to tighten a medial collateral ligament that does not heal well is a big undertaking and it would be the aim of all medical teams treating this kind of injury to avoid it at all costs. However a small proportion of patients with persistent pain or lack of stability around the knee will end up having a ‘tightening’ procedure which again will result in several months out of the game.

There is some evidence that improving muscle co-ordination and balance around the knee can help to prevent ligament injuries and most physiotherapists working with high performing teams would now include some kind or ‘prehabilitation’ routine in their squad training. This would be a set of preventive exercises aimed at protecting the knee from ligament injury, working on the basis that prevention is better than cure. However the contact element and the unpredictability of football means that we will never completely take away the risk that a player maybe caught unawares and the ligament accidentally stretched as the knee is pushed out of line.