Post 66 Football fans suffer strange injury

 Wishing that I could be watching the football match at Old Trafford instead of working in the Casualty Dept at the Infirmary, I was busy treating patients with various lumps, bumps and bruises when three teenage boys arrived.

They had been watching Manchester United play Manchester City.   I can’t remember now whether it was a cup match or a league match and in any case that’s not relevant to the story.   Nor can I recall who won, not that that matters either, though I’m sure it did to the lads at the time.

The three lads had four broken wrists between them, one left wrist, one right wrist and one bilateral. (He’s the one who for the next six weeks would have the most difficulty wiping his bum.)

Though I didn’t realise it at the time, it was my lucky day, for these 3 lads were to give me a healthy push up the greasy promotion pole that is the surgical career ladder.  

‘How did they manage to break their wrists?’ I hear you ask.

Well it was back in the days before ‘all seating’ stadia were introduced.    The youngsters, to prevent their view being obstructed by adults, went to the ground early and stood, either immediately behind the

wall at the edge of the pitch, or behind the barriers that were used to break up the crowd.    These  barriers had a concrete pillar at each end and were joined along the top by a tubular steel bar.

 The lads watched the match with their hands resting (palms facing down), on the top of the bar, using it

to raise themselves up if anyone should block their view.

At a particularly exciting point in the match, the crowd behind them had surged forward down the steep slope of the terrace, crushing them against the barrier.   This had forcibly overstretched their wrists causing their injuries. 

X-rays were taken which confirmed that all four wrists were broken.   Appropriate strapping and pain relief was arranged and the boys were instructed to attend the fracture clinic the next morning to have their fractures reduced.

At the time, busy as I was in the Casualty Department, I thought little more about it but later I began to wonder whether this was recognised as a mechanism of injury.  Although quite junior at the time, I knew that most wrist injuries were caused by falling on an outstretched hand, typically as a result of slipping on snow or ice.   If this was something that hadn’t previously been documented, perhaps I could write it up, maybe even get a report published in a surgical journal.   If so, it would certainly look good on my CV.

It seemed likely that such injuries would occur when the grounds were full, so I rang the sports editor of the Daily Express whose offices were close by.   I needed to know the dates on which the attendance at football matches was greatest; arbitrarily I suggested in excess of sixty thousand.  The editor was most obliging and gave me access to their sports archives in return for the promise of an article for the Express should my research prove fruitful.

Subsequently, armed with the dates when the crowd was close to capacity, I was able to review the records of patients who attended casualty within 24 hours of these matches and, lo and behold, I found four further cases.   All teenage boys!

The article, when it was published in a medical journal was a winner.   Entitled ‘Soccer Supporter’s Wrist’ I placed it prominently on my CV.   At future job interviews, the interviewing panel, in those days invariably male, couldn’t resist asking me about it and I was able to talk for a good portion of the time on a topic with which I was fully conversant and in which the panel were genuinely interested.   It

left them very little time to quiz me on more awkward matters.  At one interview I wondered aloud whether such injuries might occur at rugby matches.   Two of the panel held debentures at Twickenham and started discussing the question between themselves; I simply sat there listening.   The whole interview passed in a flash and I was offered the post for which I applied without any other subject being raised!

Later I was able to put another publication on my CV that proved to be even more distracting to interview panels.    It was entitled ‘Numb Nipples’ but that is a story for another time!


The more competitive the specialty (and surgery is particularly cut throat) the greater the need for a trainee to stand out from the crowd.  It wasn’t enough to keep your nose clean, pass the appropriate exams and get a good reference from your boss, you needed to publish articles in learned journals and read papers to academic societies.   A ‘publish or perish’ attitude developed and regrettably led to an environment where trainees sometimes undertook research for the wrong reasons.

Thought for the day

Serendipity means searching for a needle in a haystack and instead finding the farmer’s daughter.                                            Anonymous