The LifeStyled Club Podcast gives a voice to wives and partners of current and former professional footballers, sharing their stories on subjects ranging from mental health and wellbeing to breaking down stereotypes. In episode 15 of the podcast, Barrington Atkins joined Charlotte Fryatt – wife of former footballer and Stewarts client Matty Fryatt – and podcast hosts Helen Drury and Maggie Devine Inman to discuss clinical negligence in football.
Matty previously played as a striker at Leicester City (where he broke numerous club records), Hull and Nottingham Forest. After sustaining an Achilles tendon rupture, Matty’s career was prematurely ended as a result of pressure to play through the injury without treatment. Barrington advised Matty to bring legal action against his former club, in a case that would go on to settle out of court.
The full episode is available to listen to below.
Charlotte began by recalling her and Matty’s life before the injury, with the whole family regularly enjoying watching Matty’s games. The period immediately following the injury was all-encompassing for the family, and Charlotte saw how Matty was struggling with poor mental health due to the uncertainty around recovery. She hopes that clubs are beginning to recognise the psychological effect of injury. A support system, including welfare officers, is essential as mental and physical health are so intertwined.
Noting that players may not feel comfortable speaking to someone, partly because of worries about how it might affect the opinions of coaches and managers, Maggie pointed out that when a player is injured it will inevitably change family dynamics and their partner will come under increased pressure. Charlotte agreed that it felt like the family was going through the daunting prospect of heading into the unknown together. Nobody expected Matty to have to retire from football so early, and they both struggled with him never being able to replace the feeling of playing in front of huge crowds.
In the aftermath of the incident, Charlotte went into survival mode, looking after their children and getting through each day trying to take Matty’s mind off things with school events and family life. She could see how crushing Matty’s identity loss from not playing had become but was only able to recognise just how bad things got in retrospect.
Barrington on medical negligence
Injuries are of course commonplace and part of the world of football, but Barrington argued that medical negligence should not be, and that injured players should always receive the best care available. A career-ending injury is always difficult to accept, but it is even more challenging when a player’s career is taken away because of someone else’s actions.
Barrington said that the first important step is early diagnosis, and that many career-ending injuries and negligence cases would never have come about if the club had promptly arranged an MRI scan. He recalled several clients telling him they may have received appropriate treatment or surgery if only they had been granted an early scan, but that instead they continually had to play matches, making the injury worse.
Helen noted that it is usually players’ wives and partners who consider the big picture as other people around them focus solely on the game, and Barrington agreed that open dialogue between player and partner is important. He proposed other steps that players should take in case of injury, including being sure to document everything because clubs may not keep complete records.
Financial considerations in a claim
Barrington listed the options for covering financial losses following a career-ending injury:
- claiming on career-end insurance, if you have it
- PFA financial support
- A sports injury legal claim
Insurance payouts will only cover the period of a player’s contract, and PFA support also has a time cap. A legal claim, on the other hand, considers past loss of earnings as well as potential future losses. These would include a player’s career plans after football: if their plans were compromised by a career-ending injury, compensation would last until state pension age.
Compensation from a claim will settle medical bills, but can also cover psychological treatment and additional care and assistance. If a player’s wife or partner has to pick up what was previously part of the player’s everyday routine, they can add this to the claim.
Matty’s claim and life after playing
Cases like this do not settle overnight and can take a few years. Barrington initially put together a preliminary investigation package with Matty, including conversations with an independent medical expert to determine if he had a case.
Charlotte said that both she and Matty felt passionately that he had been wronged, and the hope for justice kept them going. She described Barrington as a “beacon of light at the end of the phone”, helping give them focus throughout the claim. She also stressed that she and Matty have spoken publicly about the claim to help raise awareness for other players and families that may go through something similar.
Barrington explained that players often ask him whether anyone else has gone through a case like this, but pointed out that the majority of cases are dealt with discretely. Matty and Charlotte chose to take the courageous step of making their situation public. Their work has helped remind clubs of their duty of care to players and their families.
The highs of playing professional football are difficult to replicate post-injury, but Charlotte said she and Matty are very grateful for the time he did have. She concluded that healing is a long-term process. Matty now works as a football scout and enjoys his work, particularly the analytical aspect of viewing the game. Matty also now coaches his 10-year-old son’s team.
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