Archive for category The Natural Causes

Nikola Gazdić – 1921

Nikola Gazdić was Croatian footballer who collapsed on the pitch on 22nd May 1921, whilst playing for Hajduk Split . Gazdić was suffering from the late stages of tuberculosis.

Gazdić was the first Hajduk player to score more than 100 goals.

Article to follow.



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Samuel Wynne – 1927

By Jamie Allen

The 1920’s was something of a golden decade for Bury Football Club, the small team from Greater Manchester enjoyed one of the most successful periods in their history as they made a name for themselves in the First Division of the Football League.

The 1923-1924 season saw The Shakers secure promotion to Division One for the second time since the formation of the Football League in 1888, finishing in second place behind the Division Two title winners, Leeds United.  Bury’s second spell in the English top division saw them register their highest placed finish in the league when they ended the 1925-26 campaign in 4th position, ahead of the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Everton.

Bury achieved further success that season as they secured the Manchester Cup in 1925 and then the Lancashire Senior Cup in 1926.  After arguably the most positive season in the clubs history, it was time to strengthen their position in Division One and build on their success.

Born in Neston, Cheshire, Samuel Wynne spent his early career playing for the Neston Colliery team in the local leagues followed by a brief spell with Connah’s Quay in Wales, where a colliery was also in operation at the Point of Ayr, which suggested that Wynne was following the coal mining work that was available at the time.  However, Wynne signed professionally for Oldham Athletic in 1921 to play in the English professional football league.

Wynne became infamous during his time at Oldham for one of the most bizarre 90 minutes a single player could experience.  In October of 1923, the Division Two clash between Oldham and Manchester United saw the Latics come away with a 3-2 victory, a seemingly average game on the face of it. However, Wynne had a decisive role to play in the extraordinary match as the Oldham full-back grabbed 4 of the 5 goals scored.

The game began badly for Wynne as he headed into his own net from a United corner just before the 10 minute mark.  He then atoned for his initial error by tucking away a penalty to level the scores.  His team mate, Billy Howson then made it 2-1 to Oldham before Wynne stepped up to dispatch a free kick to make it 3-1.  A miscue in the box then saw Wynne register his second own-goal of the game as he kneed the ball into his own net, setting up a tense finish and becoming the first player ever to score two goals for each side in a single match.  Oldham held out for the 3-2 victory.

Bury signed Wynne from Oldham in December 1926 for a fee of £2,500, which was a club record transfer fee at the time.  James H. Thompson, the Bury manager bought him as a replacement for the injured Heap, who had broken his leg against Derby County earlier in the 1926/1927 season.

Wynne brought with him a wealth of experience playing at full-back in Division One and Division Two for Athletic where he made close to 150 appearances.  His defensive experience would prove important in a season which was supposed to be a chance to consolidate and build upon the clubs highest finish in the top division in the previous campaign.  However, what transpired was the complete opposite as Bury found themselves fighting for survival in the 1926/27 season in Division One.

Wynne became an ever present figure in the Bury side deputising for the injured Heap.  However, his career at Bury would last only 3 months before tragedy struck, cutting short not a career in professional football but a life as well.

Bury came into the game with Sheffield United on the back of a 1-1 draw away at Leicester, however, the Shakers were still languishing perilously close to the bottom of the table on 36 points with 3 games remaining.  At this point Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion occupied the relegation spaces on 27 and 29 points respectively with Everton just outside on 30 points.  Although, Bury had a game in hand over all three of their rivals, there was a still a danger that they could be relegated, depending on other results.

It was 30th April 1927 and the perfect day to stage a game of football, with the sun beaming down and the crowds gathering in their droves.  Wynne had arrived in Sheffield with the rest of the Bury squad and eaten fish and toast with his team mates before the game, showing no signs of ill-health or injury.

The game got underway in front of around 20,000 spectators (reports on the exact attendance varies).  It was a clean game with both sides playing good, attractive football and the match passed without a major incident until the 38th minute.  One of the Sheffield forwards had been called offside and the referee duly awarded a free kick to Bury in their half of the field.  Sam Wynne had placed the ball down in order to take the free kick when tragedy struck.

The Yorkshire Evening Post reported the incident on 2nd May 1927:

Wynne, a man of fine physique, who, up to that point had been conspicuous with his clean and clever play, bent down to place the ball in position, stumbled and collapsed.

The report continues:

The referee (Mr. G. S. Osell of Tipton, Staffs), called for a doctor and three doctors separated themselves from the crowd and were quickly by the player, who was taken on a stretcher to the dressing room.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported that  both team’s respective trainers attended Wynne on the pitch accompanied by Dr F and Dr H.L. Willey who had been watching the game in the crowd.

After Wynne had been carried from the field the game continued up until the interval.  No sooner had the half-time band started playing, they had to be cut short with the terrible news that Sam was beyond the aid of the doctors who came to his side and he had died after his collapse.  The game was abandoned.

Although there were incidents of football players dying due to injuries incurred on the pitch, the circumstances surrounding Sam Wynne’s death were unique.

The Guardian reported on 1st May 1927:

It is true that men like Cropper of Grimsby and Powell of Woolwich Arsenal died after being injured in the course of play and that Robert Benson passed – during a game at Highbury in war time but as far as first class football is concerned the circumstances surrounding the death of Wynne in the arena whilst the match was being played have no parallel.

Initially, there was suspicion surrounding Wynne’s collapse on the field and subsequent death.  He was a fit and healthy man of athletic build according to the various reports from those who knew and worked with him.  According to Harry Unsworth, a director of Bury FC, he had known Wynne for three years and he had always been a healthy man, in the best physical condition.

However, soon after Wynne had been taken from the field, it was discovered that the football in use during the game had actually burst sometime before his collapse.  At the inquest, Mr W.A. Lambert appeared on behalf of Sam’s relatives and questioned witnesses about the game.  Mr Lambert was quoted in a report published in The Guardian on 3rd May 1927.

Mr Lambert: During the game did Wynne head the ball?

The Witness: Yes, he was very good at that.  He was considered very smart with his head

The initial theory was that Wynne’s death had been caused by a cerebral haemorrhage incurred during his constant heading of the burst football throughout the 38 minutes of play.  However, this theory was proven to be false during the inquest.

The post-mortem examination of Wynne’s body discovered that he had been suffering from the early stages of pneumonia.  The doctor carrying out the examination also reported that there were no signs of cerebral haemorrhage disproving the initial, ‘burst ball’ theory.  The strains of a high-level and physically intense football match had put too much strain on his body and caused his sudden and unexpected death on the Bramall Lane pitch.  The official cause of death was given as syncope caused by pneumonia and toxaemia.

Sam’s widow, Hannah Elizabeth Wynne had filed a compensation claim against Bury FC for £600 under the Workman’s Compensation Act after his unexpected death and by October 1927, 5 months after Sam’s passing, Bury County Court delivered the verdict.

The Guardian reported the verdict on the 11th October 1927, where Judge Spencer Hogg found in favour of Sam’s widow.  The Judge stated:

The facts of the case are simple.  The deceased was employed by the respondents.  In the course of his employment he collapsed and died.  His death was due to pneumonia and toxaemia.

The Judge then went on to reference several related cases and how he will judge the case:

I shall therefore adopt the law as laid down in those cases.  I therefore ask myself: Was there personal injury to the deceased caused by accident arising out of and in the course of the employment?  The answer is in the alternative.  The second question is… Was it the disease which killed him, or did the work he was doing help in any material degree?  I find the work helped in a material degree.

Although, the Shakers contested the initial compensation claim, the court found in favour of Sam’s widow.  Bury FC in collaboration with others raised a fund for Hannah Wynne which would see her procure more compensation than the initial award of £600 and despite Bury FC’s questionable decision to contest the compensation claim, the principles of integrity and common sense won out in the end.

Sam Wynne left a lasting legacy as Bury FC’s record signing during the 1920’s.  Not only that he was the first player to score two goals and two own-goals in a single, professional football match, making it into the Guinness Book of Records in 1927.  His record was only equalled when Aston Villa’s Chris Nichol scored all four goals in a 2-2 draw with Leicester in 1976.  The only difference was Nichol managed all of his goals in open play.

Sam was survived by his widow; Hannah Wynne, his daughter, Gwendoline Wynne and a son, Samuel John Wynne who arrived only 8 weeks after his death in 1927.

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Patrick Grange – 2012

By Mark Godfrey

In the game of football, it’s an art that requires just as much skill and technique as shooting, passing, tackling or any extravagant flick or trick you care to mention in order to become proficient.

The dedication and bravery required to excel at heading a football – light and modern or otherwise – is quite a rare trait. One such player noted to have the necessary desire and aptitude was the American, Patrick Grange.

Growing up as a sports-mad kid in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Grange’s parents Mike and Michele remember him regularly heading a football from the tender age of just 3-years-old and that, from then on, he sustained regular concussions – some of which were linked to his love of heading a football.

He began to flourish in the game during his late teens; starring for his college side Illinois-Chicago and then at the University of New Mexico. At was around this time that he began to demonstrate the first signs of the condition that would rob him of his life at the age of just 29.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known in America as Lou Gehrig’s disease, has long been well documented in people over 50. ALS is a form of Motor Neurone Disease. The most common symptoms of ALS include depression, memory loss, impulse control disorders and progressive dementia. According to Grange’s parents, he exhibited many examples of these behavioural anomalies going back to his high school days.

There have also been many cases diagnosed amongst sportsmen in their 20’s; the vast majority of those have been recorded in participants of more violent contact sports with more potential for head trauma such as American Football and boxing.

Grange was diagnosed with ALS when he was 27 and died just 17 months later. Post-mortem analysis of his brain by Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University, Massachusetts, showed distinct signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and indicated severe frontal lobe damage more consistent with injuries seen in former NFL players.

Dr. McKee’s examination found that the area of Grange’s brain that was most impacted corresponds to where footballers typically head the ball, but pointed out that it is very difficult to apportion blame specifically or exclusively to heading.

We can’t say for certain that heading the ball caused his condition in this case,” she said. “But it is noteworthy that he was a frequent header of the ball, and he did develop this disease. I’m not sure we can take it any further than that.

We think the precipitating factor in this case was most likely the trauma. First of all, he was absurdly young when he developed this disease. And he has considerable evidence of this trauma-induced tauopathy, or C.T.E.

CTE  has hit the headlines recently in Britain in relation to the case of West Bromwich Albion legend Jeff Astle who died in 2002 as a result of brain trauma sustained by heading heavy leather balls during his auspicious playing career. The family of the former England striker are campaigning for an inquiry into the effects on the brain of such repeated concussive contact based on the findings of a 2011 study done at the Montefiore Medical Center in the US.

Under the lead researcher of that study, Dr. Michael Lipton, images from the brains of 32 amateur football players were taken and compared with those of who had suffered concussion. Results provided proof that players who frequently headed the ball were greatly increasing the risk of causing themselves severe and permanent brain damage. The study does not specify an exact amount of headers by which lasting injury can occur but a figure of 1000 or less per year may be considered safe, although more tests are required, say researchers.

At the time of his initial diagnosis, Grange had been hoping to realise his long-time dream of playing in the MLS. During his High School career, he was selected to take part in Albuquerque’s regional pool for the US Olympic Development Program. Whilst at college, the talented forward continued to catch the eye for Illinois-Chicago and for the New Mexico Lobos where he majored in communications. After university he had been playing at semi-professional level and was with Chicago Fire in the Premier Development League – a breeding ground for future MLS stars.

Deterioration in Grange’s condition was rapid; within six months of his ALS diagnosis he was forced into a wheelchair and soon after was unable to feed himself. He died at his parents’ house, surrounded by his family on April 10, 2012.

Patrick was described by his family and friends as quiet, optimistic and brave and after his diagnosis his passion became to research ALS and raise its awareness in his home state. He was successful in his driving passion when New Mexico declared February 3rd as annual ‘ALS Day’.

A tribute video was created about Patrick when he was inducted into a local Athletics Hall of Fame. Every image is of a smiling child, in full football kit, who grows to be a confident and competent footballer and because of a rare disease never had a chance to fulfil his potential.


Patrick Grange

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Mitotônio – 1951

Mitotônio was a Brazilian left winger who died on 1st April 1951 from a haemorrhage which is attributed to stomach congestion. Mitotônio scored the opening goal of the game but was taken to hospital in the second half.

Article to follow.

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Tommy Blackstock – 1907

Written by Jamie Allen

At the turn of the 20th Century, Manchester United were far from the domineering trophy winners which we know today.  Known by their founding name, Newton Heath LYR Football Club in the Victorian era, they were playing in the second division of the English football pyramid after only joining the official football league structure in 1892.

Newton Heath had remained in the second division for the majority of the clubs formative years but endured a tough period of financial difficulties during 1902 and 1903.  A winding-up order had been set upon the club by then President, William Healey who had claimed he was owed around £242.  Newton Heath were grappling with severe debt and still required around £2,700 in order to continue to operate and fulfil their fixtures for the season.  By April 1903 four local business men had come together and stumped up the cash to save the club from liquidation.

John Henry Davies was named President and subsequently renamed Newton Heath, Manchester United Football Club.  United played their first full season under the house-hold brand name which the world knows today in the 1902-1903 campaign.

Despite, being saved from liquidation and rejoining the football league under the new guise of Manchester United, the problems did not dissipate straight away.  The Football Association suspended the club secretary (the club secretary was the name for the manager of the team), James West and team captain Harry Stafford for making illegal payments to players.

Ernest Mangnall was instated as club secretary for the start of the 1903-1904 season, much to the surprise of the United fan base.  Mangnall was seen as a manager who built his teams around supreme physical fitness and camaraderie and believed that his team should only be given a football once a week.  In this aspect, Mangnall personifies the original English coach of the twentieth century, subscribing to the philosophy of physique over technique.

However, Mangnall’s methods were to prove very successful during his time at Manchester United.  Club President, John Henry Davies was willing to give Mangnall the money to build a side and build he did.  Mangnall spent a record transfer fee of £600 on centre-half, Charlie Roberts along with full-back, Tommy Blackstock and half-back, Alex Bell.  He also acquired the attacking trio of John Picken, John Peddie and Charlie Sagar in the forthcoming seasons as he built a side to achieve promotion.

The most recognised formation for a team to employ back in the early days of footballs development was the 2-3-5 formation.  This would consist of two full-backs playing in front of the goalkeeper which mirrors the modern day central defenders. In front of the defence there would be two half-backs and a centre-half, which in modern terms forms a central midfield three.  Finally, there would be five forward players spread out across the attacking line, a left winger, a right winger, two inside forwards and a centre forward.

Tommy Blackstock was amongst Mangnall’s first signings when he took over as United’s club secretary in 1903.  Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland in 1882 he appeared for a number of clubs in his native country.  Beginning his football career at Raith Athletic as a teenager, Blackstock had shown particular promise, blossoming into an impressive full-back and catching the eye of Cowdenbeath.  A season with the Miners saw Blackstock continue his development and once again he found himself under the admiring gaze of another club.  Leith Athletic recognised young Balckstock’s promise where he then spent a further two seasons, showing all of his early promise and becoming a popular player.

Blackstock’s performances in Scotland had caught the eye of those across the border in the south and Mangnall brought him to United in 1903.  The young Scotsman didn’t make any real impression during his initial years at Manchester United, spending most of his time playing in the reserves he made a total of 13 appearances for the first team from 1903 to the end of the 1904-1905 season.  However, he was to make his breakthrough to the first team in the following campaign.

Blackstock proved to be one of the stalwart full-backs of the Manchester United side which won promotion to the first division in the 1905-1906 season.  Not only did United win promotion, they also conceded only 28 goals, boasting one of the strongest defences in the league, demonstrating their strong defensive work ethic facilitated by Mangnall’s focus on the physical condition of his players.  Blackstock made 21 appearances during that campaign alongside fellow full-backs, Bob Bonthron and Dick Holden.

The team scored a total of 90 goals that season, finishing as joint top scorers with league winners Bristol City.  Picken, Peddie and Sagar scored 54 goals between them as they finished runners-up.  United were on the up, boasting a set of ruthless front-men all with prolific goal records and a strong, almost immovable defence.  Blackstock, still in his early twenties, seemed to have a long and successful career ahead of him at the heart of Manchester United’s defence.

After such a successful season on a personal level and winning promotion to the first division, it was unfortunate the Blackstock found himself out of the side the following season, making only a handful of appearances for the first team and spending most of his time back in the reserve side.  It is likely that Blackstock was ousted from the side by new full-back Herbert Burgess who was signed with a host of players from local rivals Manchester City.  Funded by John Henry Davies, these included the forward, Sandy Turnbull; inside forward, Jimmy Bannister and the £500 star-forward, Billy Meredith.

The Scotsman, Blackstock, still only 25-years-of-age was left in the reserves to prove his worth to the first team when called upon.  He made only three league appearances in that season, a 1-2 victory away at Stoke City, a 2-4 defeat at home to Bury and a 0-0 home draw with Liverpool. He also made an FA Cup appearance in a 2-2 draw away to Portsmouth.  However, his season was to be cut short in the most tragic of circumstances.

Blackstock’s final match was for the United reserve side against St. Helens Recreation FC in the Manchester suburb of Clayton on 8th April 1907.  With only ten minutes of the game played and with no one around him, the Scot headed the football and subsequently collapsed to the ground, laying unconscious on the field of play.  He was carried off the pitch and into the dressing room but his state had deteriorated and he was pronounced dead.

The strange circumstances surrounding Blackstock’s death were to continue throughout the inquest.  The Manchester Evening Courier reported that he had died of ‘natural causes’ after the Manchester City Coroner had concluded his inquiry.  The Dundee Courier also reported that Doctors had said there were no internal injuries and that there was nothing physically wrong with Blackstock, further adding to the unexplained circumstances surrounding his death and the Evening Telegraph had reported that it seemed that there was “little occasion to place any great strain on the heart.”

Blackstock’s death was eerily similar to that of Leeds City centre forward, David Wilson who collapsed and died of heart failure in a match against Barnsley in October 1906.  However, as the game against St. Helens had only been under-way for around ten minutes, heart failure seemed an unlikely cause of death.

The Manchester Courier and Lancashire Central Advertiser also reported a similar story, comparing Blackstock’s death to Wilson’s.  However, the papers also stated it had been almost impossible to fully determine the causes of his death and suggested that it may have been a fatal seizure after heading the ball.  The official verdict still reads as ‘death by natural causes.’

Blackstock’s body was returned to his home-town, Kirkcaldy for the funeral procession which ran from his father’s residence to the New Cemetery on 11th April 1907.  Many of the local, well-known gentry attended the funeral, along with team mates, club officials, fellow professional players, close friends and family.

His death was both tragic and unfortunate and the treatment of his family after his death only added to the pain already suffered as United had withheld the insurance money that was rightly due to his next -of-kin.  However, if football as a whole took any positive out of his untimely passing then it has to be the establishment of the Association Football Players Union (AFPU) which was set-up by several of Blackstock’s team-mates in wake of the treatment of his family.  Meredith, Roberts, Sagar, Burgess and Turnbull, sparked by the controversy over Blackstock’s insurance money, all collaborated to form the AFPU, a forerunner to today’s Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).

There was a lot of praise reserved for Blackstock by many of those in the football community at the time.  His manager, Ernest Mangnall was shaken by the events and he held particular praise for Blackstock during his time playing professional football for Manchester United, stating that he trained harder than any other player despite spending much of his time in the reserves and he was one of the favourites around the squad.

An obituary by Mr J. J. Bentley, a co-founder of the Football League, in the Evening Standard on 10th April 1907 also spoke highly of Blackstock.  Bentley spoke of Blackstock as a cultured individual having experienced life in foreign countries like Australia and also an intelligent young man who could recount the particulars of the Russo-Japanese war which had broken out in 1904.

Bentley also referred to the last game he saw Blackstock play for the United first team against Liverpool.  The full-back put in a heroic defensive performance, flinging himself in-front of the Liverpool forwards and putting his body on the line to help his team to capture a 0-0 draw.

The game epitomised Blackstock as a player in a staunch, defensive performance reminiscent to that of the 1905/1906 promotion season which was the highlight of his career.

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