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Ryan Mason, 25, clashed heads with Chelsea defender Gary Cahill 13 minutes into the game on Sunday 22nd January 2017 resulting in a skull fracture and requiring neurosurgery.
After eight minutes of treatment on the pitch, he was carried off on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask, and taken to St Mary’s Hospital in London where he under went surgery.
The incident happened as Mason attempted to head the ball clear of the Hull box following a cross from Pedro from the right wing.
The Hull midfielder got to the ball a split second before Cahill, who was already committed to his attempted header, and the pair collided.
Both players spent a lengthy period receiving treatment.
Cahill, who continued playing, said: “I tried to get on the end of the cross. We smashed heads. I wish him all the very best.”
On Radio 5 live they discussed the difference between training for rugby players to prevent injuries in tackles compared to football. It was noted that this incident seemed unavoidable as both players were committed to the tackle and could not pull out.
Goalkeepers are trained to tuck their heads in and cover it with their arms, in the event that they come out of the box and dive to block the ball. Strikers are also taught that in this situation they are to be careful of the goalkeeper. The priority is the head not the ball in this instance. This does show some progress as this was not the case, at least, as far back as the seventies.
However, education about head injuries is poor in football. Listening to the Monday Night Club on Radio Five Live, with football presenter and commentator Mark Chapman joined by Premier League winner Chris Sutton, former Republic of Ireland midfielder Andy Townsend and Jonathan Northcroft, sports reporter of The Sunday Times; it was evident that the focus was on when the player can return to play following a head injury. The upshot of it all is that footballers, their teams and their fans want them to return as soon as possible.
They praised the referee for stopping the match immediately and the medics for being on in 15 seconds which may well have saved his life. This should be compared to when Petr Cech suffered his head injury in 2013, as the game wasn’t stopped and he had to crawl to the side line to seek medical attention. Mourinho at the time said ‘there was no room for doubt ‘Petr Cech was dying on the pitch, clearly. We all know at that moment that he was dying. So there is no space for doubt, no space for question marks, no space for communication or lack of communication between player, doc, manager. There was no space.’
Chris Sutton mentioned that his father, also a professional footballer used to train by heading medicine balls, heavily weighted balls usually used in body conditioning, such as squats and sit-ups. His father now suffers from Alzheimer’s. The attitude to concussion in football seems to be that it’s something that doesn’t last long and you can get back on the pitch as soon as possible to finish the game. Although Ryan Mason received medical attention swiftly, Gary Cahill who was also involved in the head to head collision returned to the field and finished the match. Andy Townsend assured listeners that the concussion protocol would have been followed and no one would have been put at risk but his teammates reported Gary Cahill was ‘a mess at half time’.
This incident may prompt questions of whether this type of head injury training is enough. This accident would not have been completely unavoidable, if players didn’t commit to dangerous tackles in the first place. Maybe players will think twice before jumping at high speed to win the ball, in direct competition with another player, having now seen the seriousness of the injury that this can cause. Premiership footballers are at the peak of physical fitness, strong and able to run at high speeds, colliding in this way is very dangerous. Undoubtedly both players would have suffered concussion, which is serious enough, but requiring neurosurgery takes it to another level.
It is too early to predict the long term effect this will have upon Ryan Mason, although he is stable at the moment. Head injuries are unpredictable and they can cause many long term deficits including memory loss, cognitive impairment and risk of further brain injury in the future.
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