With England’s so-called Golden Generation right in the midst of its peak period (on their club form at least), Wayne Rooney cracked his fifth metatarsal during Euro 2004 and then fractured it just six weeks before the 2006 World Cup.
As news of his 2006 injury hit the football world, plans were made, alternative players to make it into Sven-Göran Eriksson’s squad were identified, Rooney was no longer on the plane to Germany.
But Rooney went to the World Cup. He played in all but one of England’s games, putting in a particularly lively display in the final group game, against Sweden.
Players don’t recover from these kinds of injuries on their own in such short time-frames. There is a sort of magic that some football teams can utilise to speed up recovery times if they possess it. It’s called having a good team physio.
Between 1996 and 2016, England’s narrative turned so many pages that players like Darren Anderton and Paul Gascoigne gave way to others, who gave way to the likes of Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford.
In all of that time, fretting England managers came and went, but all looked to the same man to sprinkle his magic and make sure the key players were fit in time for major tournaments. Gary Lewin was England physio for two decades and is immensely proud of his time in the dugout and aiding those on the medical bed. “I started in August 1996 under Glenn Hoddle and finished in June 2016 under Roy Hodgson and was fortunate to have covered 234 matches over this 20-year period.”
Lewin appreciates just how big a feat it is to remain in the role for so long, but insists it does happen in his profession. “This longevity of service was not uncommon but, as the industry is changing so much and the medical staff at The FA are now full-time, I am not sure if this will continue to happen in the future. One of my predecessors at England was Fred Street, who undertook the role for more than 20 years.”
Day-to-day, Lewin’s job was to “cover the team at training and matches, dealing with injuries that may occur during this time. The biggest part of the role is the liaison with the clubs regarding the players’ injury statuses whilst on camp or during the season at their respective clubs. We would also be involved in the planning for any camps, trips or tournaments including creating Emergency Action Plans for any venue.”
Emergency Actions Plans (EAPs) ensured that in-game injuries would involve a swift process, whereby the players in question could reach a local hospital for assessment in the shortest time and slickest fashion possible.
But one of his EAPs proved very worthwhile indeed, thanks to a truly unabashed helping of irony. “It was a (2014) World Cup group match in Manaus against Italy. Daniel Sturridge scored the equaliser and on the bench we obviously all jumped up to celebrate. Unfortunately, I stepped forward to grab the drink bottles and my foot slipped on the wet astro-turf and went in a small gap between the astro and grass pitch.” The punchline of this extraordinary anecdote is already clear.
“I suffered a fracture-dislocation to my left ankle.” Off he went, abducted by an ambulance, careering to hospital for his very own casualty. “Before I flew back to England for surgery, Daniel (Sturridge) texted me to thank me for taking all the ‘limelight’ away from his first World Cup goal for England!”
Lewin looks back favourably on England’s luck with few serious injuries over his time with the side. “Fortunately, we did not have too many bad injuries, but the two most significant ones that spring to mind were Wayne Rooney’s fractured 5th metatarsal in 2004 and Michael Owen’s ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in 2006.”
Looking back at his time with England, a number of tournaments stick out in Lewin’s mind. The “best tournaments were my first, in France in 1998 as it was my first experience of the World Cup, and Japan & South Korea in 2002.” The magnitude of a certain match in Shizuoka still sticks out today – “to be involved in a World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil was surreal.”
But whilst there are highs with England, there are undoubtedly lows. The “worst moments were obviously my injury in Brazil and flying home early, but the worst moment was my last match, against Iceland, which we lost and was my last ever England match after 20 years. It had been a major part of my life.”
Lewin’s time with England may have been up nearly four years ago, but this year the Three Lions will embark on another exciting summer of football.
“I think both England Teams are in a really good place. The men’s team are young but developing really well under Gareth Southgate and I really think they have a great chance of winning Euro 2020, particularly as 5 out of the 7 matches they would be playing to win it would be at Wembley.”
For the Women’s side, the Olympic Games offer an immediate incentive to find form, and beyond that will be Euro 2021. “The Lionesses are in a similar position. Having reached the final stages of the last few tournaments, they are now getting experience of the big matches and with Euro 2021 on home soil, I am confident they have a great chance of winning it.”
“All England teams now have such a great facility at St. George’s Park, with full time staff that will help them all achieve great things. International football in England is in a great place.”
Having opened his own state-of-the-art Sports Injury Clinic in late 2019, you could be forgiven for thinking Lewin’s time in football is up. But he insists that would be wrong. “I have kept some contact with football, as I work as an adviser with Arsenal Women’s Football Team and as a tutor for the FA on their ATMMiF Course.”
The clinic, in Hainault, London, offers a new adventure for Lewin; one he is eager to pursue. “My main job now is as Director of the Lewin Clinic, with my cousin Colin Lewin, who was also the physiotherapist at Arsenal for many years, firstly as my assistant and then as Head of Medical Services.”
Lewin’s new home is more-than-well-equipped. In fact, he is convinced that only the biggest Premier League clubs could compete with its high standards. But his clinic is for a much broader clientele, not solely professional sportspersons. “We wanted to bring an environment synonymous with elite athletes for all.”
“The Lewin Sports Injury Clinic opened on 28th October 2019 and we were very humbled by the support we received from so many people. The Clinic has started well, and we are excited for where it is going.”