Archive for category The Injured

Serhiy Perkhun – 2001

By Vadim Furmanov

During the match, your sense of danger completely disappears.  You’re thinking mainly about playing the ball and avoiding making contact with the striker.  And only later do you think back on how you played, and what could have happened.

-Serhiy Perkhun, in his last ever interview

He was always fearless on the pitch. Always willing to come out and challenge for the ball without any regard for his own safety.  Always putting the team ahead of himself.

On August 18th, 2001, sensing danger as the opposing striker was running on to a lofted pass toward his goal, he came rushing out of his box to head the ball clear.  But this time, he couldn’t avoid making contact.  This time, he did not get the chance to think back on the play.  This time, the sense of danger that he so often ignored to keep the ball out the net could have saved his life.  Several hours after a violent collision with the striker, Serhiy Perkhun slipped into a coma.  After ten days, he was dead.

Serhiy Perkhun began his career playing for the youth team of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, his hometown club.  He made his first team debut against local rivals Kryvbas in October of 1993 after an injury crisis left the senior side without a single healthy goalkeeper.  At just 16 years of age, Perkhun was and remains the youngest goalkeeper to ever make an appearance in the Ukrainian Premier League.

The following year he was a key member of the Ukraine side that took home the bronze medal from the Under-16 European Championships in Ireland, the first international success for an independent Ukraine.

An auspicious beginning to his career did not bear immediate success.  Perkhun only played sparingly for Dnipro through the 90s and in the winter of 1999 he made a surprising move to the Moldovan club Sheriff Tiraspol. While at the club he helped them to win the Moldovan Cup, their first ever piece of major silverware.

After a year and a half at Sheriff, Perkhun was ready to leave Moldova.  A prolonged contract dispute, however, meant that for six months Perkhun was effectively without a club.  His old club, Dnipro, refused to buy out his contract.  Dynamo Kyiv were reportedly interested but failed to secure a deal.  A tryout with Galatasaray proved unsuccessful.  To remain in form he trained with CSKA Kyiv while waiting for an offer.

In February of 2001, one finally came.  Pavel Sadyrin, manager of CSKA Moscow, invited Perkhun to the club’s winter training camp at the recommendation of an agent.  Perkhun was fresh from yet another rejection; after a tryout at Torpedo-Zil he was told that the club already had enough keepers.  But Sadyrin saw something in Perkhun that everyone else had overlooked:

You know, I liked Seryozha [diminutuve form of Serhiy]  from the first day we met.  I remember I called him over and truthfully told him ‘You know we have a first-choice keeper, Andrey Novosadov. So I can’t promise anything.  Everything will depend on you.’ ‘I understand,’ the guy said, ‘I’m ready to wait for my moment for as long as it takes’.

Two weeks after arriving at the camp Perkhun was offered a contract.  It was certainly a gamble.  Perkhun had been without a club for six months, and before that had been playing in the footballing backwater of Moldova.  Sadyrin, however, was convinced.

The gamble paid off.  Perkhun’s moment came soon after joining the side.  When starting goalkeeper Andrey Novosadov went down injured against Zenit three months into the season, Perkhun was handed the gloves at halftime and never gave them back.  “You can say that he came pretty much out of nowhere,” remembers teammate Sergey Filippenkov, “we all thought, now we’d see what he’s made of.  And then, a phenomenal take off.”

His performances – 12 matches, six clean sheets, six goals conceded – did not go unnoticed by Ukrainian national team manager Leonid Buryak, who called up Perkhun for a friendly against Latvia in Riga.  Perkhun played the second half of the match, a 1-0 victory.  As Buryak recalls,

As he was leaving the national team after the August match in Latvia, he came up to me and asked, ‘Leonid Iosifovich, am I going to be called up for the matches against Belarus and Armenia?’ I distinctly remember his eyes, they were gleaming with hope.  I told him ‘of course you’ll be called up, without a doubt.

The friendly in Riga took place on August 15th, 2001.  Three days later, CSKA Moscow travelled to Dagestan to take on Anzhi Makhachkala.  The home side had the better of the play for most of the match, and could have been well ahead had  it not been for the heroics of their Ukrainian goalkeeper.

In the 75th minute Perkhun was once again called into action.  Anzhi midfielder Nebojša Stojković lofted a through ball into the path of Budun Budunov.  Perkhun, quick off his line as always, came out to challenge for the ball.  As he was already outside his box, he went up to head the ball clear, leaping right into the path of the onrushing forward.

It was exactly the type of self-sacrificing play everyone had come to expect from Perkhun. “The word fear,” remembered teammate Oleg Kornaukhov when looking back on the incident, “was entirely absent from his mind,  and in that moment, he acted as he should have.”

Immediately after making contact with the ball, he clashed heads with Budunov.  Both players lost consciousness and were taken to the local hospital.  Perkhun’s cut on his head was stitched up and he was given two injections to prevent tetanus.  After two hours under observation he was discharged, deemed well enough to return to Moscow along with the team.

On the bus to the airport Perkhun said he was feeling fine and asked about how the match ended.  But after fifteen minutes he lost consciousness and was immediately rushed back to the hospital.  He was in a state of clinical death for seven minutes before doctors managed to resuscitate him, after which he fell into a coma. The next day, the same plane which departed to Moscow without him returned to Makhachkala to take him back to the capital where he was transferred to a neurosurgery centre.

Perkhun’s CSKA teammates were left in a stunned daze, shocked by what had happened but remaining hopeful for the best.  “For the whole week after that match we lived in hope,” remembers Filippenkov.  “I thought Seryoga would make it.  There were rumours he’d have to leave football.  But I believed that he would survive.”

Fifteen minutes before each morning practice the CSKA players met and were updated on Perkhun’s condition.  And if there was no practice, they found out for themselves.  Teammate Stanislav Lysenko would call the doctor and ask if there were any improvements. “Still the same,” was the daily response.

On August 24th, as Perkhun was still in a coma, being kept alive by a respirator, CSKA hosted Torpedo-Zil.  Hundreds of CSKA fans arrived in the stadium in specially made shirts with Perkhun’s #16 emblazoned on the back and the words “We believe in you, goalkeeper’ on the front.  The supporters covered part of the west stand with a yellow-green banner made to look like Perkhun’s goalkeeper kit, also with his #16 prominently displayed.  The match ended 1-1, but on that day the result was secondary.

Four days later Stanislav Lysenko once again picked up his phone and dialled the number of the doctor.

I asked him, as always, ‘how’s Seryoga?’  I even asked cheerfully. His answer was just ‘he’s gone.’  Right away there was a long pause.  For a minute we were silent, both he and I.  I just couldn’t believe that this could happen.  And when I hung up the phone, I just broke down in tears.

At 5:30 AM on August 28th, 2001, 10 days after the collision, Serhiy Perkhun passed away.  He left behind a daughter and a pregnant wife.  Three months after his death his second daughter was born.

The next day thousands of people came to mourn Serhiy Perkhun at the CSKA sports hall.  Teammates, club officials, fans.  And not just of CSKA.  Supporters of Spartak and Lokomotiv, among others, put aside their bitter rivalry to pay tribute to the fallen keeper, leaving flowers and scarves at the ceremony.

When the plane carrying Perkhun’s body arrived in Dnipropetrovsk it was greeted by scores of grieving mourners.  The entire CSKA team came for the funeral, joined by 10,000 others.

Perkhun’s teammates spent the entire rest of the season playing in black armbands.  His number 16 was retired by his club and a memorial was erected in his home town.

Before his own death from cancer three months later, Pavel Sadyrin, the man who brought Perkhun to Moscow, said in an interview:

He had everything a goalkeeper needed.  Dedication, skill.  He was very coordinated… he read the game very well, and often came out of his box.  And that is what killed him.


Serhiy Perkhun playing for CSKA Moscow



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Hocine Gacemi – 2000

Hocine Gacemi was an Algerian footballer who died two days after clashing heads with another player. The striker scored a goal but landed on his head but never regained consciousness. Gacemi died on 21st March 2000.

Article to follow.



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David Arellano – 1927

David Arellano died from peritonitis after colliding with another player. Arellano is credited as one of the founding members of Chilean football Colo-Colo.

Article to follow.

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Albert Van Coile – 1927

Albert Van Coile was a Belgian centre forward who died on 4th April 1927 from a perforated bowel which was sustained during a game.

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Sim Raleigh – 1934

The enduring continuity of football is something that we are all familiar with in the 21st century. The wonders of the internet and satellite television enable us to digest as much information from the football world as we wish. The game is constant, every day there is top-flight action to enjoy. Many of us take an interest in the goings-on of Serie A or the German Bundesliga; for others, the entirely different subtleties of non-league football hold greater appeal. Some enjoy all three. Football, quite simply, is a constant.

The story of the football’s continuity in the early twentieth century, however, is an altogether more saddening reality. The untimely death of Sim Raleigh on December 1st 1934 in a game between Gillingham FC and Brighton and Hove Albion, received very limited national coverage. Column inches were very sparingly devoted to the reportage of such a tragic accident. Gillingham simply continued their Division Three South campaign the following week. Footballing continuity of the 1930s was a very different story to how we know it today. As crude as it sounds, life just went on.

Sim Raleigh, aged 25 at the time of his death, was a prolific centre forward who had built a reputation as a fine lower league goal-scorer. A South Yorkshireman from Brinsworth near Rotherham, he enjoyed as spell as a youngster with Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, before scoring an impressive twenty two goals in little over thirty appearances in the East Riding at Hull City. Raleigh’s goals helped Hull achieve two top half finishes in the Third Division North, before he moved to Gillingham in the summer of 1932.

Gillingham were a stable, if unspectacular force in post-war English football. Despite achieving League status in 1920 as founder members of Third Division, they finished bottom in their first year, but were re-elected to join the newly formed Third Division South. The club enjoyed, or rather endured, eighteen years at this level, achieving a highest finish of seventh in 1932-33 which was Sim Raleigh’s first season with the club, before their eventual demotion in 1938 after a series of previous re-elections.

During his career with Gillingham, Raleigh was a popular figure with team-mates and a frequent goal-scorer; in addition to his good record at Hull, he scored thirty-four goals in eighty-nine appearances, becoming the club’s top scorer in his second season, netting on eighteen occasions.

On December 1st 1934, Gillingham faced Brighton and Hove Albion in a home match at the then Priestfield Road. Soon after the start of the match, Sim Raleigh  collided with Paul Mooney, an opposition defender. Fred Maven, Gillingham manager, described the collision: A cross was played into Raleigh, both he Mooney had eyes only for the ball, but instead clashed into each other. The referee, Mr Arthur Jewell, allowed play to continue, stressing that there was no foul play.

Although Mooney quickly returned to his feet, Raleigh was laid behind the Brighton goalmouth, and received little attention while the game continued.

Accidents such as this are common in the game, as we know, and perhaps with the expert medical care afforded to players of the modern professional game, events may have taken a totally different course.

As it was, Raleigh returned to the pitch after five minutes, and continued to play in a concussed state until shortly before the final whistle, when he once again collapsed, knocked his head on the ground, and lost consciousness.  Sim Raleigh suffered a brain haemorrhage as a result of the collision.

Sim Raleigh died at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in Rochester later the same day. Despite the efforts of a team of surgeons, he was pronounced dead at 9.50pm.  A Dr. Campbell of St Bartholomew’s attributed the death to ‘a blow on the skull’. The coroner taking charge of the case returned a verdict of accidental death, just four days after the game.

Raleigh left his wife, Mrs Hilda Gladys Raleigh (nee Newbolt), and one son, Sim Raleigh Jr. who was just one-year-old at the time of his father’s passing. His wife spoke at length of how she wanted no blame to be attached to Gillingham FC, Brighton and Hove Albion, and specifically Paul Mooney. Her words had little effect on Mooney, whose involvement distressed him to such an extent that he was forced to retire from the game.

Despite spending the majority of his short career in Kent, Raleigh and his family retained their best links with friends on Humberside, where he was laid to rest on Friday 7th December. His funeral took place in a small chapel at the Western Cemetery on Humberside, and his coffin was carried by six members of the Hull City club: E. Longden, G. Maddison, R. Thomson, E. Lloyd, C. Woodhead, and assistant trainer J. Lodge.

Sim Raleigh was a popular man and accounts from the Hull Daily Mail tell of the many people who gathered both inside and outside of the chapel as he was buried, while representatives of Huddersfield Town, Hull City and Gillingham FC all laid flowers. The same newspaper tells us that all the current Hull City squad attended, alongside their Secretary, Vice-Chairman and President. Hilda Raleigh received a cash donation of £250 from Gillingham to allow her to look after her young child.

The death of such a young, promising player was not publically grieved. The football world quickly moved on. The day after the funeral, full Third Division North and South programmes were played, with both Gillingham and Hull in action: Gillingham recorded a 2-0 win at Cardiff City, while Hull triumphed over Sheffield United.

The premature death of Sim Raleigh was simply forgotten. Even today, the official website of Gillingham devotes only the smallest section of an ‘On This Day’ to the tragedy, while a search on the Hull City site offers no results.

Sim Raleigh


For further information and support about head and brain injuries check out the Headway website.

Headway the brain injury association

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Jimmy Thorpe – 1936

The rules for goalkeepers have often been described as ‘overprotective.’  Before the 1930’s there was little outfield players couldn’t do to a keeper in order to try and score a goal.  In terms of legitimacy, flagrant acts of violence were allowed as long as the players in question were attempting to play the ball.

In 1936 these rules change but not before a tragedy had occurred to prompt the decision.

Sunderland are First Division champions!  The issue was definitely settled and settled in such a style as to convince the football world they are worthy champions.

North Mail, 1936

The 1936 league winners sealed their title with a convincing 2-7 win over Birmingham City as St Andrews.  The manner of their victory epitomised everything the team had wanted to achieve, not only to be successful but also to commemorate the loss of a beloved colleague only 14 games earlier.

James Horatio Thorpe was the Black Cats goalkeeper.  At the age of 22 he had been playing the first team since 1930 having being selected to play after only two games in the reserves.  Thorpe was a promising talent and in total he made 139 senior appearances for Sunderland.

He had a prominent nose and rows of wavy hair like a well furrowed field.  A cartoonist’s dream in the most affectionate of ways.

Sunderland Echo 2005

For a goalkeeper he was slight and as his teammate Raich Carter noticed prior to the incident that Thorpe had lost a ‘significant’ amount of weight over the previous couple of years.  His bulky woollen keeper’s jersey hid this thinning frame.

It was quite a comment for Carter to make in 1936. Whether Thorpe’s weight loss was intentional or because of his underlying health issues is not known but for Carter to make a pre Men’s Health magazine quote about another man’s appearance was unheard of.

Unfortunately the question of Thorpe’s health would play a part in his death and the in the alleged ‘whitewash’ at the subsequent inquest.  The goalkeeper’s father told the court that in 1934 Jimmy had been diagnosed with diabetes and had spent a four-week period in hospital recuperating.  Thorpe’s type of diabetes required him to take shots of insulin everyday.

In the 1930’s, injecting insulin was a relatively new concept.  Diabetes was regarded as a life threatening condition as little as thirteen years before Jimmy Thorpe was diagnosed.  In 1921 a young surgeon called Frederick Banting from Canada kept a severely diabetic dog alive with extracts of insulin and later a young boy who only had a life expectancy of a year.  Within 24 hours of the boy taking a refined extract of insulin his life had been saved.  The discovery was described as a ‘miracle’.

This life saving treatment wasn’t the easiest to administer when Jimmy Thorpe would have been giving himself daily shots.  The glass syringes were large and cumbersome but most of all they were painful.  The syringe came with a pumice stone in order to keep the needle sharp and they required constant sterilisation in order to stop the patient from getting further infections.

On the day of Jimmy Thorpe’s death he had taken his painful, life saving treatment and travelled on the bus to Roker Park to play as he had in the previous 56 consecutive games.

It was February 1st 1936 and Chelsea were the visitors.  Sunderland were top of the league and Chelsea mid-table.  The clash wasn’t designated as a grudge match or the players as having a particular propensity towards violence.  It would however be remembered for rioting in the stands, extreme violence on the pitch and  described as ‘a disgrace to first class football’ by the coroner.

The local press, for his performance against Chelsea, initially castigated Thorpe and the dropped two points were squarely placed at the keeper’s feet.  As the equalising goal crossed the line the Newcastle Journal described it as a ‘tragic moment for Thorpe’ not realising that the real tragedy was that the player was severely injured.

The game was a bad tempered affair. Sunderland, who were known for playing a passing game, were constantly out muscled by the Chelsea players. The team from the north-east were 3-1 up with 20 minutes to play. Chelsea were pressing for a goal when Thorpe came to collect the ball in his own area.

Before Thorpe could stand, three Chelsea forwards and a few Sunderland defenders converged upon the keeper.

Before Jimmy was admitted to hospital he told his father that he’s been kicked four times during this incident, three in his side and once in the head. A local police constable who gave evidence at the inquiry said it was ‘pretty wild kicking’.

Thorpe could only stagger to his feet, with the ball still in his possession, and lean against the goalpost. The same constable described the goalkeeper’s face as ‘deadly white.’

Unaware of Thorpe’s injuries, the referee continued to play the match where Chelsea would go on to score twice against an obviously shaken Sunderland keeper, to make the final result 3-3.

Four days later, on the 5th of February, Jimmy Thorpe lapsed into a diabetic coma and died of heart failure.

The referee, Mr Warr from Bolton, was not called to attend the inquest and the coroner asked the jury not to ‘pass a vote of censure’ on him because he wasn’t there to answer for himself.  It’s unknown why such a key witness in Jimmy Thorpe’s death didn’t attend or wasn’t asked to atone for his lack of action during the game, especially after the coroner’s comments that the referee was ‘very lax’.

Frederick Wall, former Football Association secretary, called for an FA inquiry to be held regarding the rise of ‘rough play’ in recent years.  He believed that a change in tactics and formation to include the position of ‘defending centre half back’.  The ‘stopper’ as he called it ‘has completely changed the style of play and has been conducive to unfair charging, a dangerous practice.’

Mr Wall’s theory fails to stand up in the case of James Horatio Thorpe as the Chelsea players involved in the attack were in a striker’s position and attempting to kick the ball from the goalkeeper’s hands.  The tactics of rough usage were entirely from the forward line.

The FA inquiry was held on 2nd March 1936 and many Sunderland fans were and still are angry about the apparent ‘whitewash’. The FA commission consisted of of three gentlemen over the age of 75 who concluded that neither the referee or the Chelsea forwards were culpable in Thorpe’s death but that it was the fault of Sunderland AFC  for fielding a player who ‘wasn’t in good health.’ Sunderland’s medical team were not called to give evidence at the commission.

The rules were however changed very soon afterwards and  it would be deemed foul play for players of an opposing team to raise a foot to a keeper or attempt to free the ball from his possession with their feet. A rule that remains today.

Jimmy Thorpe was a talented footballer, who was genuinely respected by his teammates. It is understood that Johnny Mapson, the 18 year old reserve keeper who replaced Thorpe, gave his League winner medal to Jimmy Thorpe’s widow as a mark of respect.

Jimmy Thorpe truly was a game changer.

Jimmy Thorpe

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Hrvoje Ćustić – 2008

By Alex Stewart

It is 29th March, 2008. NK Zadar are playing a home fixture against HNK Cibalia.

It is still early in the game, the teams probing each other, and an aimless through ball is gathered by the Zadar ‘keeper, who then drills a long pass out towards the left of midfield from the Zadar end.

Hrvoje Ćustić and a Cibalia player, rush towards the ball as it bounces towards the touch-line, both angling their bodies across each other as they vie for possession. Ćustić then appears to get slightly further ahead, winning the chase, before he trips or is tripped, and falls forwards.

His momentum carries him, head-first, into a low, concrete barrier which runs the length of the far side of the pitch, supporting the fencing which separates the fans from the pitch and bearing pasted-on adverts. There is obviously something about that impact, a noise perhaps, because the Cibalia player turns immediately and throws his hands up, frantically beckoning medical staff onto the pitch, beckoning as though he might actually reach them and drag them on with the movement.

Players and the referee rush over, crowding around Ćustić, grabbing at him in their efforts to help, to rouse him perhaps from unconsciousness. A Cibalia player, wearing number 28, appears then turns away, his hand over his mouth, as medical staff rush towards the fallen player.

These images are from the videos that show the tragic accident that led to the death of Croatian footballer Hrvoje Ćustić at the age of 24. He died five days after the accident, probably of an infection while still in an induced coma after surgery on his brain. He was rushed to hospital immediately after the accident and underwent surgery very promptly, but he never began to recover beyond being stabilised.

His team-mates camped outside the hospital, praying for him, and a collective swell of both goodwill towards Ćustić and anger towards the club and the municipality for the almost wilfully dangerous nature of the pitch-side fencing bubbled up in the town of Zadar in the weeks and months that followed.

Zadar is a city on the Adriatic coast in the area known as Dalmatia in Croatia. A vibrant city with a population of just over 75,000 in 2011, Zadar is a former Roman settlement with a long and complex history, involving occupation by various nations or groups, including the Huns and the Venetians.

By the time Hrvjoe Ćustić was born in the city in October 1983, it was a prosperous and stable city, busy with tourists flocking to the Adriatic, though having fallen behind Split as the notional regional centre for Dalmatia. Until 1991, Zadar had growing population numbers and a burgeoning, if not booming, economy.

In 1991, all that changed. It seems such a cliché to write about the war in the former Yugoslavia when writing about a footballer from the region, but there can be no doubt that the war and its legacy left a lasting imprint on the generations who lived through it, on what they felt mattered and what they wanted from a new life in the new Croatia.

Zadar was subject to an almost total blockade from 1991 to 1993, which had an enormous effect on the economy. Attacks on the city continued until 1995, even after the nascent Croatian army had freed the area from siege.

It was under this daily threat of shelling, of economic privation, and of an awareness of the flimsiness of life and living, that Hrvoje Ćustić grew up. He was eight when the war started.  In his history of eastern Europe, Jonathan Wilson notes the fervent nationalism, which veered between pride and bigotry, engendered among all the nations of the former Yugoslavia by the outbreak of the war and the gradual cohesion of various parts of the fractured country into new nation states.

An obvious outlet for these feelings was football, and, as Wilson describes, the tournaments of 1996 and 1998 provided a much-needed boost and visible platform for a thoroughly brilliant generation of Croatian footballers. By this time, watching and probably inspired by the performances of players like Robert Prosinečki, Zvonimir Boban, and Slaven Bilić. Hrvoje Ćustić was playing for the NK Zadar youth team alongside future stars like Luka Modric.

It must have been an incredible time to be playing football in Croatia, the country not only forging a new present and future as an independent nation, but with an array of players representing the country both in a successful national team and by plying their trade abroad.

NK Zadar, who currently play in the top tier of Croatian football, the Prva HNL, are something of a yo-yo team between the two highest divisions in Croatian football. One of the founding members of the Prva HNL, the club’s greatest season was in 1995/96, when they came second in the Prva HNL and reached the semi-finals of the Croatian Cup, the same summer as Croatia really burst onto the international scene with their quarter-finals appearance at Euro ’96.

While researching this piece, I was lucky enough to speak to someone who played football with Ćustić in the early part of his career at Zadar. He has asked to be referred to as Ivan. Ivan described how Hrvoje was very focussed on a career in professional football and was quickly marked out as being a talent.

“He was among the most talented players at Zadar, people spoke of him in superlatives. He was obviously talented but his hard work was his biggest quality”. Ivan describes a normal young man, “very motivated to make a football career”, “a very positive guy but determined to succeed in football, and nothing and nobody would have stopped him achieving his goal”. This work ethic, harnessed to an obvious ambition, made him stand out, though everyone in that Zadar youth set-up was secondary to Modric.

Ćustić was known as a very physical player, quick, and with an excellent eye for goal. He started out as a forward, but often played on the wing later in his career. I asked Ivan what Hrvoje was like as a teammate. He told me that Hrvoje was “a good teammate, a bit of a joker I’d say…he was always teasing the younger guys. He’d make them uncomfortable for a moment with his comments or something, but his big smile afterwards would seal the deal”.

Ivan recalled how Ćustić was also very much a team player: “He assisted me for my first official goal ever. We played in a big tournament in Genova, Italy. It was the last goal of the match. I [came on] as a substitute a couple of minutes earlier. He could have scored it himself but he decided to pass me the ball, and I had the easy task of just putting the ball in the net. Although he was very determined he was unselfish.”

This blend of talent, focus, and team ethic saw Ćustić capped seven times for the Croatian under-21 national squad, playing mostly as a winger, as well as three caps for the under-20 squad.

Between 2000 and 2005, he played 84 times for Zadar, scoring 7 goals, before being loaned out to NK Zagreb. He made 22 appearances for ‘The Poets’, scoring once, before returning to Zadar for the 2007/08 season. It was Zadar’s first season back in the top tier after two seasons playing at a lower level. Ćustić played twenty times, scoring once, before that horrific day in March.

I asked Ivan whether the Croatian FA did anything to mark the tragic accident. The UEFA webpage pertaining to the Croatian FA’s response no longer exists, and so it is difficult to check, but it appears that the following weekend’s matches were all postponed. Ivan told me that while there were some calls for the Croatian National Cup to be named after Hrvoje, nothing came to fruition.

The city of Zadar did name a street in front of the stadium after him though. His legacy also extends to improved conditions in the Stanovi Stadium, where Zadar play their home games. The tragically fatal concrete fence is now further from the pitch as a direct result of the accident: the whole pitch was shifted away from the stand in front of which Ćustić was injured, with the opposite stand being demolished and rebuilt. This work occurred in August 2008, and also brought in better lighting and safer areas for the fans.

Ivan said to me, “there was a lot of anger, because only [Hrvoje’s] death made people in the club and the city of Zadar, which owns the stadium, improve it”. That anger is clear in Ivan’s own words, more than five years after the event: “It’s tragic that nobody cared about the safety of the sportsmen in that so-called stadium before his death. The wall was obviously too close.”

The legacy of Hrvoje Ćustić is more than improved safety conditions for players though. It is clear from Ivan’s words that the death of Hrvoje left a sizeable hole in people’s lives, that the sadness and anger that swelled as a result of the accident were due in large part to Hrvoje’s popularity, his charisma, as much as the senselessness of his death.

Ćustić was a normal boy from Zadar who followed his passion for football, who worked hard as well as being gifted, and who died fulfilling his dream of being a professional player. The stupid futility of that death, the fact that with a little sense and effort it could have been avoided just makes it sadder. The reaction of the Croatian FA and the club itself could have been better but it is perhaps fitting that it is in the memory of his friends and teammates, rather than in the gestures of the football apparatus, that the memory of Hrvoje Ćustić lives on most forcefully.

A Postscript:

It is perhaps unsurprising to find that things moved slowly and without a great deal of thought at NK Zadar and the Croatian FA in the wake of Ćustić’s death. Despite repeated efforts, I was unable to get any answer from the club itself about Hrvoje, and it does seem that there is a lack of organisation at Zadar; a local journalist I spoke to told me he also struggles to get in touch with people at the club. It is thanks to the efforts of Aleksandar Holiga and Mladen Malik that I was able to write this piece, and I am very grateful to them both.

My greatest thanks are reserved fro Ivan, who took time and effort to respond to my queries and revisit the sad death of a friend and teammate.

Hrvoje Ćustić

For further information and support about head and brain injuries check out the Headway website.

Headway the brain injury association


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Joshua Wilkinson – 1921

By Iain Duff

On November 12th 1921, Rangers played Dumbarton in a Scottish League game at Ibrox. In goal for the Sons was a promising 24-year-old former Scotland schoolboy international named Joshua Wilkinson.

He had already packed an incredible amount into his young life. More commonly known as Joe, during the First World War he spent three years at sea where, according to newspaper reports, he had his ‘fair share of adventure’, including being torpedoed twice.

On his return to Scotland, he spent a season with Rangers and another at Renton before signing up for his hometown team, Dumbarton, all this while studying for an honours degree in the Arts at Glasgow University. According to his father William he was ‘a young man of robust constitution.’

Dumbarton were no longer the force they had been when they shared the very first league championship with Rangers 30 years earlier. They were destined to be relegated from Division One at the end of the season, but on the day they played above themselves and managed to secure a draw against the champions.

Despite telling one member of the Rangers training staff he hadn’t been feeling ‘up to the mark’ before the start of the match, Wilkinson had a brilliant game and managed to limit Rangers to just one goal, from Tommy Cairns. In the style of the day, Cairns had shoulder challenged the keeper as he stood on the line with the ball in his hands. Wilkinson carried the ball over the  line and a goal was given. Dumbarton players claimed the challenge was illegal but the referee was in no doubt it was a fair challenge

What no-one realised at the time was that Wilkinson was already suffering from an internal injury that he had picked up earlier in the game. At the Fatal Accident Inquiry into his death, several incidents were suggested where he might have suffered the injury.

Dumbarton right back Donald Colman, who had travelled to the game with Wilkinson on the subway from Partick to Govan, told the inquiry that the goalkeeper asked him to take goal kicks because he was in too much pain to take them himself. Despite his pain, he played on until half time, when he complained his injury was ‘pretty bad’. But he went back out for the second half and completed the game. Colman recalled, ‘He played extraordinarily well, right through the game.’

Following the game, Wilkinson was violently sick. He went to White and Smith’s, the restaurant where the Dumbarton team had their post-match tea but according to the club’s director John Carrick, instead of joining his team mates at the table he crouched down beside the fire. When Carrick asked him how he was he pointed to his left side and said ‘I have an awful pain here.’ He said he got the injury when he ‘knocked against’ the Rangers forward Andy Cunningham. For his part,  Cunningham told the inquiry he was certain he had not had any sort of collision with Wilkinson during the game.

As his condition worsened Wilkinson was put in a taxi and driven home to Dumbarton from the restaurant. He was seen by a local doctor, who immediately diagnosed peritonitis. He was driven back to Glasgow the next day and underwent emergency surgery at the Western Infirmary.

Rangers manager Bill Struth visited him in hospital after the operation and although the young goalie recognised Struth, he lost consciousness soon after and never woke up again. His devastated parents were at  his bedside when he died on the Monday morning. His father’s last words to him were,  ‘You have played the game too well’.

Mr Wilkinson  may well have been right. Doctors discovered that his son had suffered a ruptured intestine during the game that had caused infection to set in. The cause of the rupture was never established, but one expert speculated that the intestine might have been damaged early in the game, but did not fully rupture until later, possibly as a result of his own exertions in goal.

The Fatal Accident Inquiry heard that Wilkinson told his mother that nothing out of the ordinary had happened at Ibrox and that he had not been kicked. His family were at pains to exonerate Rangers from any blame attached to his death and as a mark of respect, the Glasgow club paid for his headstone.

It was a tragic loss of  life and it is sad that the death of such a promising and popular young footballer has gone largely forgotten. In those more stoic days, the sort of collective, public grieving that is commonplace today was largely unheard of. Life simply went on and so did football, with both Rangers and Dumbarton fulfilling their respective fixtures the following Saturday, just two days after his funeral.

Joshua Wilkinson headstone

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William Cropper – 1889

By Laura Jones

County cricket and football are natural sporting bedfellows.  The seasons only overlap in the late spring months and for those with a natural sporting disposition they allowed sportsmen to perform throughout the year.

It used to be common to find cricketing footballers.  Denis Compton played football for Arsenal, county cricket for Middlesex and international cricket for England. Even up until the 1980’s the duality of sportsmen could be found in Ian Botham who played for Scunthorpe United but more famously cricket for Durham, Somerset, Worcestershire and England.

In 1889 it was a Derbyshire athlete that made the headlines on the 13th January that shocked both the football and cricketing worlds. William Cropper, a footballer for Staveley FC, died from an on the pitch accident, whilst playing against Grimsby Town FC.

Little is known about William Cropper the footballer. He’d played locally in east Derbyshire for five or six years for Spital, Bockington Works and for Staveley FC, a team where he was excelling as a footballer.

Staveley FC were an amateur team who had ambitions of becoming a professional outfit. In August 1888, only five months before Cropper’s accident, the club settled on registering the team as professional and applied to appear in a number of cup competitions including the Sheffield and Hallamshire Cup. In their first season in the Hallamshire cup Staveley reached the final at Bramall Lane but eventually lost 2-1 to an injury depleted Rotherham United.

After Cropper’s death, his club Staveley FC, had their application to become a professional team rejected due to the low population of the village and because they had sold a large chunk of their land to the railways for expansion of the line to Chesterfield. This decision would eventually force them out of existence.

During William Cropper’s career he had what looked to be a bright future with Staveley but it was as a cricketer that he was most noted for. On the announcement of his untimely death most newspaper’s reported him as a ‘Derbyshire cricketer’ rather than as a footballer.

Cropper made his first appearance for Derbyshire at the age of 19. He started as a promising batsman and evolved into a useful all-rounder with his left arm medium pace deliveries and competent fielding. He was described as ‘reliable and smart’ by the Sheffield and Rotherham Telegraph. Hardly a fanciful description but Cropper was a solid and capable man to have on your team.

The accident took place a on cold January match day. There were high winds at the ground and the pitch surface was slippery but both teams were tough and resilient. Staveley had a reputation for being hard tackling and competitive. It’s alleged other teams nick named them ‘Old foot and mouth’ because they weren’t afraid to get a foot in or keep their mouths shut.

Their opponents, Grimsby Town, were hardly the shy and retiring types either and it was expected to be a hard fought battle at Clee Park, the home of Grimsby, with both teams being described as ‘robust’.

The match started at 2.30pm as normal. The game had only been in play for eight minutes when the innocuous challenge occurred.

William Cropper was playing right wing or inner right forward as it was called then and he was charging along the line towards the Grimsby goal.

A ball was crossed to Cropper’s teammate Charlie Coalbrook but it sailed over his head.  The ball was now loose with Cropper racing towards it but he wasn’t the only one heading towards the ball.

Little may have been known about William Cropper but his competitor Daniel Doyle was notorious. Depending on whom you believe Doyle was a Scottish football superstar, a mercenary, a hero, a killer. He had a mind ‘like a weather vane’ that was likely to go off any direction at any time but as a footballer he was unquestionably brilliant.

Doyle had been acquired by the Grimsby Town chairman on one of his ‘fishing expeditions’ north of the border.  According to Bob Lincoln, former Grimsby player and director, in his book Reminiscences of Grimsby Town Football Club, Scottish players were described as ‘salmon’. The chairman knew he had landed himself a big fish in Doyle.

It was in his later career that Dan Doyle’s bad boy reputation would be forever etched in Scottish football history. He made excessive demands and threats whenever renegotiating his contract. Doyle knew that if his threats weren’t met his talent would be snapped up elsewhere.

Doyle’s former club Everton sued him after he broke his contract. Doyle asked for his wages to be paid up front for the season, where he would then take a minimal amount as weekly wages.  Everton agreed to this and paid him a total of £111.  Doyle was contracted to play from May 1891 to April 1893.  Doyle terminated his contract on 8th August 1891 to begin a contract with Celtic.  Although Celtic were still an amateur club at the time they offered Doyle more incentives to return including a pub where he could be landlord. Doyle accepted Celtic’s terms and terminated his contract with Everton.

Doyle’s defence was that he had played for 14 weeks for Everton and that he had always been willing to pay back the difference in the wages he had been paid up front.  As the English season doesn’t play competitively between May to August, Doyle effectively claimed wages for not playing any competitive games.

Even though Doyle had treated Everton with contempt, they continued to woo him back to the club for years afterwards.  Despite his character his footballing ability was never in doubt, even by a club burned by the defender before.

The Athletic News described Doyle as ‘a splendid player but is in possession of a bad temper and his refusal to obey the referee and his subsequent conduct in setting the FA at defiance will certainly not be allowed to pass unnoticed.’

Doyle’s reputation would be forever tarnished by the run he made towards William Cropper and the media and fans never let him forget it.

Pastime magazine an English sports magazine, said of Doyle, ‘He is undoubtedly able to play a scrupulously fair game for he has received unsolicited  testimonials to this effect from coroners’ juries.  On the other hand, he has certainly the power of taking care of himself in the melee, as the disasters which have befallen those who have come into collision with him amply testify.’

A shocking indictment for any footballer to receive in the press, especially as he was exonerated of any wrong doing in the collision with William Cropper at the inquest.

Both Cropper and Doyle jumped to collect the loose ball that had passed over Coalbrook’s head.

They both attempted to ‘breast’ the ball but in the jump Doyle kneed Cropper in the stomach and the Staveley winger dropped to the floor. Realising that he was severely hurt Cropper asked to be taken off the pitch.  Some articles report Cropper melodramatically shouted ‘They’ve killed me’ as he was taken from the field but whatever the truth the unanimous view was that Cropper was screaming in agony.

There are some discrepencies in exactly where Cropper was taken.  The inquest says William died in the dressing rooms but Grimsby Town player at the time Bob Lincoln said he was taken across the street to Charlie Parker’s Cocoa House where doctor’s attended him all night. It was deemed too dangerous to move him from wherever he was taken.

William Cropper died the morning after the game. His post mortem discovered a one and a half inch tear in his intestines which caused his premature death.

A memorial was erected to honour the life of William Cropper in Brimington cemetery. In Sicilian marble, a football, cricket bat and stumps were carved surrounded by a laurel wreath with an inscription to remember the popular sportman.

There is a tragic twist to the tale in that allegedly William Cropper hadn’t wanted to play as he had been appointed groundsman at Lord’s cricket headquarters the previous day. However Lords do not have a record of this job being offered to the unfortunate cricketer.

Grimsby Town football club became a pariah of the fixture list with teams from the area refusing to play them because they were ‘too dangerous to play against.’ An unfair reputation carved out from one accidental clash.

Dan Doyle, the villain of our piece, went onto have a very successful career with Celtic but he was forever marred by Cropper’s death. A unfair result for both Doyle and William Cropper.


John Thomson – 1931

Written by Tom Victor

They don’t make goalkeepers like John Thomson any more.. Barely five foot nine, a player of Thomson’s stature and preferred position would likely have been written off by top-level academies on principle. Added to that, the Fife-born player did not take what we would now consider a conventional route into top-level football.

Having begun his teenage years as a colliery worker, like his father, Thomson then turned out for Wellesley Juniors in the mid-1920s, and while the local press sang his praises as a future great of the game, it would have been easy to dismiss such comments as mere over enthusiasm about one of their own.

However, at the age of 17 he was spotted by Celtic. Quite coincidentally, it turns out – the club’s scout had been sent to watch an opposition striker but he was so enamoured by the ability of the young keeper that the Bhoys completed his signing for £10 towards the end of 1926.

He was given his chance in the first team at the age of 18, keeping his place in the side and lifting the Scottish Cup in 1927. Thomson would go on to play more than 200 games in the green and white of Celtic until his untimely death, at which point he had been on the verge of establishing himself as Scotland’s first choice goalkeeper, with an impressive three clean sheets in four appearances for the national side. However that all changed in the Old Firm Derby of September 1931.

Rangers led the Scottish top flight at the time, though Celtic would leapfrog them with a win at Ibrox, and the game was scoreless when the two teams re-emerged for the second half.

Shortly after the restart, rushing out to beat Rangers striker Sam English to a loose ball, Thomson dived out bravely to reach the ball before his opponent only for his momentum to carry him into the knee of the Irish forward, fracturing his skull.

Footage of the incident shows English, along with one of Thomson’s Celtic team-mates, signal desperately for medical assistance.

Reports at the time suggested that, as he was being carried from the field of play, Thomson looked back towards the spot where the incident occurred, with some even implying that the backward glance indicated a desire to continue playing. However he was pronounced dead just hours after arriving at Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary.

The midweek league and cup programme was naturally truncated as a mark of respect, with games involving Glasgow clubs Celtic, Rangers and Third Lanark postponed as arrangements for Thomson’s funeral and associated tributes taking priority over something as relatively trivial as a scheduled football match.

Thomson’s death had a huge effect on the community, with the Dundee Courier and Advertiser reporting on 9 September 1931 that “hundreds were unable to gain admission to the church” to pay their respects at a memorial service in Glasgow.

And the Aberdeen Press spoke of the “amazing scenes” at the church, with a “mad rush” forcing the reverend to phone for police reinforcements.

“Long before the service was due to commence at three o’clock, thousands gathered outside the church”, the report explained.

“People jumped the railings surrounding the church, and tried to gain admission through the church officer’s door…When the church officer opened the doors, a crowd immediately rushed forward and became jammed in the doorway.”

The total in attendance for Thomson’s burial at Bowhill Cemetery that same day was believed to have numbered more than 5,000, with countless others taking one of a number of specially laid-on trains from Glasgow to Bowhill.

And on the following Sunday, September 13th, a further special memorial service took place in Cardenden, with an estimated 10,000 turning the small town into  “The Mecca of thousands of footballers and sportsmen from all over the country,” according to the Courier and Advertiser.

One young football fan, who had walked 16 miles to attend, is reported to have said “I’d walk twice as far again, and gladly, just to see John Thomson’s grave.”

Thomson’s mother had been taken ill after her son’s death and was unable to leave the family home to attend the ceremony, however her wishes were respected at a small private service at the Church of Christ, with the congregation singing a hymn of her choosing.

The remembrances spilled over onto the nearby Bowhill football pitch, where a concurrent ceremony took place between the goalposts where Thomson had stood as a teenage goalkeeper waiting to be noticed by one of the big clubs.

Days earlier, upon Thomson’s burial, the club presented a wreath in the shape of an empty goal, a moving tribute to the void left in Scottish club and international football by the goalkeeper’s demise.

Thomson’s story has been revisited in the light of comparable recent incidents, not least the fractured skull sustained by Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Čech in a Premier League match against Reading in 2006.

As a footnote to Thomson’s tale, Sam English, the other player involved in Thomson’s fatal incident, his professional career was itself cut short with his retirement in 1938 at the age of 28 following what he described as “Seven years of joyless sport.”

Despite still holding the record for most goals scored by a Rangers player in one season – 53 goals in all competitions in the 1931-32 season – English was naturally traumatised by his accidental role in the death of an opponent.

He left Scotland in 1933 after suffering jeers up and down the country for his part in Thomson’s death, spending two seasons south of the border with Liverpool, before short-lived spells with Queen of the South and Hartlepool.

English’s own life was cut short when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and he died at the Vale of Leven hospital in 1967.

However he has not been forgotten in Glasgow, with Rangers introducing the Sam English bowl in 2009 for the club’s top scorer.

Similarly, Thomson’s life and career is still acknowledged by the fans who continue to visit his grave year-on-year. Earlier this year the current Celtic first team squad made the trip to Bowhill Cemetery, ahead of a cup tie in nearby Raith. The fact that so many continue to pay their tributes serves as a reminder of how Thomson’s story has stuck with Glaswegians to this day.

John Thomson Celtic goalkeeper


For further information and support about head and brain injuries check out the Headway website.

Headway the brain injury association

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