Imogen Still, a Third Year Sport and Exercise Therapy student at Solent University Southampton, spent a day in September volunteering her Sports Therapy skills at the Kanu Heart Foundation’s ‘Premier League Masters’ vs. ‘African Masters’ football match.
The charity match was organised by Arsenal and Nigeria football legend, Nwankwo Kanu, to support his charity, The Kanu Heart Foundation. The two teams consisted of retired football stars, including Kanu himself, Sol Campbell, Michael Essien, Kolo Toure and Robert Pires to name just a few, with former Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger stepping in to manage Kanu’s Premier League Masters.
Imogen travelled to The Hive Stadium in Barnet to work with a star studded line-up. Having worked with Southampton based AFC Totton for the past two years under the guidance of experienced physiotherapist Dave Penny, Imogen is familiar with the behind-the-scenes running of medical teams in football. She has seen a range of injuries from blisters and dislocations to a skull fracture, which Imogen feels has made her more aware of the responsibility and importance of being a good Sports Therapist. While her experience with AFC Totton had prepared her to put what her course has taught her so far into practice, the atmosphere and excitement in the dressing room at this particular match meant Imogen’s experience that day was a unique one.
We caught up with Imogen and talked to her about the match and how it all came about.
How did you find out about the opportunity?
One of my Lecturers sent an email to my year group asking if anyone would be interested in a fantastic opportunity to provide some soft tissue therapy for a charity ‘legends’ football match at Barnet FC in aid of Kanu’s Heart Foundation. Reading this I was very keen to take part and responded accordingly. I was given the place available to take part in the day.
I have been able to take part in a few days, similar to this match, with the Southampton Legends charity team, and I have also assisted with walking football first aid. The Sport and Exercise Therapy course at Solent University Southampton offers a lot of external opportunities which is brilliant as are the Lecturers, who are always enthusiastic to help and answer any questions.
Can you paint a picture for us of the dressing rooms before the game?
The dressing rooms were very loud with players arriving at staggered intervals and obviously recognising faces that they had not seen for months or even years. There was a buzz in the changing room which you just thrived off and everyone involved was so happy to be taking part.
One of the players from the African Masters team jokingly warned me about how loud the dressing room would be and that definitely proved to be true! Every single one of the players greeted me and was a pleasure to work with them. I worked alongside two Physiotherapists, a Lecturer and a former Sports Scientist from Solent University Southampton, Chris Neville, providing pre-event massage and stretching.
What was match preparation like? What was your role?
We arrived at the stadium 2 hours before kick-off. I set up my couch in the shower area with all my equipment. The players began to arrive an hour and a half before kick-off. Having not met the players before I made a point of introducing myself and explaining that, in addition to my services, we had two experienced Physiotherapists with us. Therefore, if they needed anything medically, I asked them to let me know. Some players needed ankles strapped, so I referred them to the Physios as I carried out pre-match massages before the team warm up. My role prior to the match was essentially to provide optional massage treatments as and when required.
How were the players at half time?
There were a few players complaining of tightness and so I completed some soft tissue work and stretching. After the game the players were happy and I had no treatments to do.
What was your highlight of the day?
I have found it very hard choosing my highlight of the day as the whole experience was amazing and I learnt so much about the professional side of football. It was a great, educational day working with a range of renowned football players and getting a feel for the professional side of a sport I already work in.
I think the overall highlight for me was just working with two brilliant and knowledgeable therapists who gave me a whole range of advice and guidance and how to differentiate myself from the crowd.
What did you find most challenging during the day?
To be completely honest there was nothing in the day that was presented as a challenge to me. The whole experience was very educational and I was appreciative for the opportunity; I wanted to make the most of every minute so took it all in my stride and enjoyed the day.
What did you gain from the experience?
The experience gave me a valuable insight into working with professional football players with vast careers and the demands of the job in this environment. Although there were not many injuries to treat, I could see the demands of the job and was given some great advice about working within sports at a high level.
It was great that everybody was there, too, with the aim to raise money towards the $35M needed to build a new cardiac centre in Abuja, Nigeria, and to help support the Kanu Heart Foundation, which aims to help reduce travel and accommodation fees for sick children.
Being part of this day was amazing and certainly an experience I will never forget and will always be grateful for.
The final whistle blew that afternoon for a 9-4 victory for Kanu’s side over their rivals, the African Masters.