of Liverpool players coming to Malta to recover from injuries
Paul Grech interviewed Dr Mark Waller, LFC
during a recent visit to Malta
It is not that long ago that English clubs used to view the
physio’s role as a token job to be given to a valued former
player. Often there wasn’t even the need for them to hold any
qualifications. After all, their job basically involved giving
the players a rub down before the match and going on to the
pitch with the fabled ‘magic sponge’ with which they used to
treat injuries ranging from a mere knock to a broken foot.
Nowadays that is no longer the case. As the players’ valuation
rises with every transfer window clubs can no longer afford to
leave anything to chance, least of all their squad’s medical
This change in mentality was brought into focus by Dr. Mark
Waller during a recent lecture held at the Hotel Fortina.
“Apart from myself, we have two full time chartered
physiotherapists who have experience in sports and two sports
masseurs looking after the first team squad. Then we also have
another doctor and further two physios that look after the
academy players” explained the Liverpool FC team doctor a few
minutes after concluding the presentation where he also gave
an overview of the impressive state of the art facilities that
are used to treat the likes of Michael Owen and Steven
Dr. Waller first went to Liverpool in the seventies as a
medical student and soon found his way on to the Kop as the
team began to dominate both at home and in Europe. Little did
he imagine that one day he would end up working for the club.
“I’ve been at Liverpool FC for fifteen years now. At first I
looked after the reserve team and then after four years I was
given the first team which was in 1993.”
Looking back, his current job is quite different from his
initial calling. “My background was in immediate care but
eventually I got interested in the area of sports injuries and
did training in that.” His experience in the provision of
emergency care would prove to be crucial during the half time
of Liverpool’s encounter with Leeds United on Saturday, 13th
October 2001 when Gerard Houllier was rushed to hospital with
a ruptured aorta.
Having just about managed to deliver his half time talk,
Houllier could no longer bear the pain in his chest so much
that he went to see Mark Waller in the treatment room. Dr.
Waller took his blood pressure and immediately realised what
was happening. He summoned an ambulance and told a colleague
to call Gerard’s wife Isabelle and friend Norman Gard. It took
fourteen hours of intensive surgery to repair the aorta. Dr.
Waller’s instant reaction had helped save Houllier’s life.
Asked about what happened during that day, Dr. Waller is
visibly uneasy. He shies away from exalting his involvement in
that episode and instead opts to take the view that he was
simply doing his job. “It is difficult for me to speak about
an individual case like that. I think that Gerard has been
quite public in stating the importance of having someone
present who knew what to do.”
“It didn’t matter whether it was me or someone else, just that
there was someone with the appropriate training who could do
the right thing.”
Such a belief is echoed in Dr. Waller’s conviction that it is
his duty to treat all the players equally and afford the same
attention to the individual regardless of his standing.
Players from the youth teams will receive the same treatment
that would be afforded to Michael Owen. “I think that if you
treat anyone because they are a superstar, you are likely to
get it wrong as you might do things because of who they are
instead of trying to get them back on to the pitch.
Personally, I’d like to think that a youth player gets the
same treatment as any member of the first team. They
definitely shouldn’t get second class treatment.”
Whilst in Malta, Dr. Waller tried to share his knowledge with
local coaches and physiotherapists. Yet, whilst it is
undoubtedly important to take in what people with such
experience have to say, there is a significant difference
between the local situation and that in England: very few
Maltese players have the luxury of training on the grass
pitches that are available for the English counterparts.
Even so Dr. Waller refutes the assumption that playing on a
hard surface is in itself a cause of more injuries. “Both have
their issues. You mentioned the problems that there are with
hard pitches whilst with the grass there is the problem of
having boggy pitches that can in turn cause injuries. It’s
swings and roundabouts really.”
If the playing facilities aren’t always of the same standard
as those found across England, the same cannot be said of the
“Absolutely splendid. I’ve had a look around and they are
superb,” said Dr. Waller of the facilities at the Hotel
Fortina. And he seems willing to back up that endorsement by
considering the possibility of sending to Malta any players
that are coming back from injury.
“We’re always looking for areas to have available for players
who are rehabilitating from a long term injury. What we
wouldn’t want to do is to put any player with an injury on a
flight: you don’t want a player with an ankle injury to sit on
a plane for three or four hours.”
“So, I think that those injuries which are going to heal
quickly we’ll try to treat back home. But for those players
that have got longer term injuries we do use other facilities
and in future we will certainly consider the extremely good
facilities that I have found here.”
Paul Grech's interview was featured in the
The Times (of Malta)
on Tuesday, 1st June 2004.
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