In the modern game serious injuries are fairly rare and when the worst does happen fully trained members of the club are on hand to ensure the injured person receives the best possible care. Episodes such as the Fabrice Muamba cardiac arrest are thankfully rare and the dedicated trained staff ensured his safely.

In the early years of organised football many players were not so lucky. Whilst researching the early years of Tranmere Rovers I was shocked at the number of serious injuries and even deaths in the game. For the month of October in 1895 the Birkenhead News reported two deaths and countless serious injuries and this was only from the local area.

One of the deaths involved a player who was new to the game and had previously been a rugby player, a background which would lead to his death. The player in question ran with the ball past the keeper and into the net where he jumped onto the ball like in rugby thinking this was required to score. Sadly he was pursued by several players who were unable to stop in time and subsequently fell on top of him. During the collision sadly the goal scorer took a severe blow to the head and died.

Only a few weeks later a young player collapsed on the field after scoring a goal. He complained of stomach pains only moments before the goal and after the goal was on the floor in severe pain. He was rushed to hospital where the doctors struggled to understand what was wrong. The young player later died and after an autopsy it was found a rib had been broken and punctured an internal organ.

Although these men were not Tranmere players their stories are a reminder of how dangerous the early game could be.

Tranmere players too have experienced some terrible injuries and a game in 1935 sticks out as perhaps one of the more injury filled ones. The game in question was a friendly between Tranmere Rovers and a combined Everton and Liverpool team ironically raising money for the Birkenhead Hospitals.

The Birkenhead News reported ‘Play…was of a most friendly character, the players concentrating on giving us the niceties of their art and yet three received injuries which necessitated their retirement.’ The first half was good example of footballing skills for the 2000 fans in attendance with MacDonald scoring for Tranmere in the first quarter of the game.

However the second half saw some very unfortunate scenes and three Tranmere players being taken off the field. The first and by far the most severe injury was to Newton who collided with the goal keeper and almost instantly fell to the ground in agony. He was taken back to the dressing room but his suffering was so intense he was taken to hospital in an ambulance.

The doctors quickly discovered he had received a severe internal injury from the collision. Luckily for Newton medicine had moved on a great deal since the 1890s and he was rushed into surgery to attempt to fix his injuries.

Back at Prenton Park MacDonald, the goal scorer, was next to retire as a crash with Liverpool’s Rogers saw MacDonald leave the field with a serious eye injury. Before the close of play the score stood at 2-0 to Rovers but the game had one more victim as Dawson left the field with an injured knee.

The following day Newton was in a fair condition but still spent several more weeks in hospital recovering. The following season Newton returned to Prenton Park fighting fit.

Newton’s story is a lucky one in comparison to the players of the 1890s but still a reminder of how physical and dangerous the game can be.

(Images from the Birkenhead News courtesy of Wirral Archive Service)

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