Part three of the interview with Physiotherapist Jason Palmer where we find out exactly what goes on behind the scenes...
From Ian McCulloch...
Jason, can you talk us through exactly what happens on Matchdays?
Normally, I'll get to the ground two and a half to three hours before the game starts to set up the equipment we require. Then the players start to arrive. The all have their own routines that they like to undertake before a game, whether it's eating at a certain time and eating certain foods - they all know what's the right thing for them.
So each player has his own individual build-up?
Basically yes, for home games. When we're away, we do it as a group. For an away game we all sit down and have a pre-match meal at the appropriate time and eat the appropriate foods. Then when we get to the ground the kit manager will set everything up, so that when the players arrive their strip and boots and anything else they need is all ready for them. Then they can take their time preparing themselves, and that involves myself and the massage therapist doing some physical preparation with them, some stretching, perhaps some treatment of maintenance injuries that they may be carrying, applying any protective strapping they might need.
I suppose that the role of the medical staff is being able to give the players everything they want. If there's anything we can give them in terms of their particular routine then we will. For instance, some of them like to sniff some smelling salts just before they go out - it makes them feel more alert, or they may prefer one sort of tape to another to keep their socks up. It comes down to making sure the players are as comfortable and as happy as they can be, so that everything flows and there are no problems - there's no need for them to get stressed about anything.
So obviously the kit that we have is quite comprehensive. We also make sure that we have everything we need for any emergencies. If it's an away game and there's a doctor there, we make sure they have all the equipment that we could potentially require for any crisis. We also make sure we have our own splints prepared on the side in case there are any fractures, and we make sure the stretchers are out, the ice is ready, and that we've made up the drinks correctly for the players.
Then it's out on the pitch with the players for the warm-up, to make sure there are no problems. If they need a hand they can give us a call; if they've got any niggles or they need anything adjusting in terms of their strapping. Then it's back in to the dressing room, and we're on call as the players finally prepare themselves.
What's your role during the actual game?
Once the game starts we're on the pitch-side. My role as the Physio is that I am the first person to go on if someone is injured. So you've got to be very alert to what everyone is doing and quite often you've got to be watching one step behind a player, because if there has been a challenge and the ball has moved on, you have to make sure that they've got up from the challenge without any problems. You might have to keep an eye on them for a minute or two - they might hobble for a short time and then be ok. But if a player does go down then you've got to get out there and try to assess them very quickly to determine if they are able to play on or whether its a serious injury.
That must be a very difficult thing, to make that instant assessment?
It can be. Quite often you can tell from the way a player reacts. When you start talking to them and you question them on it you can get a good idea. But there are certain routines that we have that basically act as a bit of a fail-safe so that it's difficult to miss something. There are routines in terms of what you ask, what you get them to do, and it's just a progressive thing that you go through.
Quite often you don't get an opportunity to go through them all because the players are already starting to get up themselves. At least then you know. By and large players will protect themselves - if they've got a substantial injury then they're not going to be too keen to get up, although there are always the stoics who will try to play on. You have to get to know the players, which ones are going to be cautious and protective of injuries and which ones would play on with their leg hanging off if you'd let them.
In a lot of games you see the trainer come on for an injury, and liberal use of the anaesthetic spray or the magic sponge seems to work miracles...
I know a lot of people are sceptical about those things and there's nothing magic about them in themselves, but what it does do, when you first bump or injure yourself, the initial pain and discomfort is highest straight after you do it. So the purpose of putting the cold spray or running cold water across someone is to create a different sensation which then can temporarily distract them from their pain, and in the meantime that pain is actually reducing, and they're getting used to it and realising that it is actually not as severe as they thought.
As much as fans are sceptical of players who have taken a big dive and are holding their leg in agony, and we know that in football there are players who will milk it, those things can play a very important role. They provide a quick altered sensation that can allow them to get through that initial period of pain, and then they get it moving again, get comfortable again and get going. They are of value, but they're certainly not a magical cure. If a player has got an injury that they should be coming off the park with, then some cold spray isn't going to change that at all.
What goes on at half time and after the game?
Basically we check every player to make sure that if they've got any bumps or bruises or niggles they get some treatment or some advice. For instance, they might be told what to do for the next twelve or twenty-four hours until they come back to see me next day at the training ground. Anyone with an injury will have to come and get treatment the next day, but of course we provide immediate treatment where necessary. Quite often players will be a little bit blasé about any bumps or niggles they might have, so it's a matter of us being adamant in making sure we optimally manage it - if you want to get some ice on someone quite often you have to literally hold them down so that they have the cold on the area for the fifteen or twenty minutes that's needed. That's all part of the challenge I guess. Some of the players might be immediately going on to anti-inflammatory medication as a result of an injury, and the doctor will co-ordinate that and any other medications.
I think it's important to stress that there is a team of people involved in all of this. Quite often the massage therapist will be checking someone and the doctor will be checking someone or we might all be checking someone, so it's very much a team effort. And we communicate together so that we know that everyone's been checked and everything's fine before the players leave, and they know that they must come and check with us before they go so that can't walk away with an injury. Obviously they're keen to get out of the dressing-room, to get something to eat, to catch up with their family, particularly if they've had a good win and they're happy and excited, they want to share that pleasure, so they're keen to get going.
Once the players have left, it's a clean up with the kit staff and then we get to go home ourselves. Normally we're back in the following day for any injuries, so it's regularly a seven-day week.
Are you aware of the crowd when you run out on the pitch?
When I saw our first fixture at Manchester United I though I'd feel very nervous, but once the game started I was all right. I'm usually nervous right until the match kicks-off, but then I think I'm concentrating too much to feel any nerves. It was good to have the pre-season game against Celtic which was obviously huge, a big crowd, great atmosphere, and that gave me a bit of a taste for what was ahead and allowed me to settle in a bit more.
I quite often get a bit of stick, especially at an away game. You might be on the other side of the pitch and you have to walk all the way around the outside and people are hurling abuse at you the whole way. I get no offence from it; if I was at home I would be one of the people in the crowd having a go myself! I enjoy the whole experience really, and there's nothing better than being down on the pitch when your team scores, and you get that rush of exhilaration. I tend to stand for the whole game so that I'm a bit more alert and can react to the game, and I quite often have to hold myself back from running up the sideline arms in the air and screaming my head off after a goal.
Would you call yourself a Fulham Fan then?
Absolutely. When I came over I probably favoured Leeds more than anybody else because I had some friends playing there, but I hadn't particularly followed English football that closely, I was too busy. But that's all changed now - I'm definitely a Fulham fan through and through.
Having been here for a bit and getting to know the guys and finding out what the Club's all about and knowing where it's going and what it wants to do, I can't imagine a better place to be. It's hard to judge not being involved with other Clubs but I don't think you find a better bunch of players to work with, and the vision and direction and motivation of the staff is just amazing.
Everything here is falling into place, and I look forward to the next ten years or so at Fulham. My goal is to be part of the team that wins the English Premiership and plays in European competition. What a fantastic experience that would be.
Throughout this interview, the thing that came through, time and time again, was the enthusiasm and dedication that Jason and his team were putting into their work behind the scenes. When you look at these committed individuals and the fantastic facilities that have been put in place, can anyone doubt Chairman Mohamed Al Fayed's proud claim that he is going to make Fulham the best there is. Believe it.