Watching today’s Premiership footballers roll around in ‘agony’, trying to con a free kick out of the ref despite their opponent not even touching them, it’s easy to forget that, just occasionally, professional sport really does cause serious injury. Here are some of the worst incidents ever. Warning: much of the following does not make for meal-friendly reading …
David Busst, football, 1996
‘It’s not me that’s famous,’ says the ex-Coventry City defender, ‘it’s the bottom half of my leg.’ On 8 April 1996, playing at Old Trafford, Busst collided with Manchester United’s Denis Irwin and Brian McClair, breaking his right leg so badly that his shin and foot were left sticking out at a terrifyingly unnatural angle. The United goalie Peter Schmeichel instantly put his face in his hands, scared to look back at what he thought he’d just seen. When he finally did, the sight made him vomit. So much blood drenched the pitch that the water thrown down to clean it simply bounced up red. Busst (pronounced ‘boost’, in case you were thinking of making the obvious joke) was stretchered off, needing 10 operations in 12 days. At one point doctors thought they might have to amputate. Even worse, Busst contracted MRSA in hospital, further damaging his leg tissue. He had 22 operations in all, and never played again.
David Lawrence, cricket, 1992
Playing against New Zealand in Wellington on 10 February 1992, England’s new fast-bowling star put his left foot down at the start of his delivery stride. It slipped, causing his kneecap to shatter. The sound was heard by members of the crowd, who described it as ‘like a pistol shot’. Lawrence’s screams of agony soon told his teammates how bad things were. Robin Smith called it ‘the most sickening thing that I’ve seen on a cricket field’. Ian Botham tried to comfort Lawrence as he was carried off on a stretcher. The bowler spent months in recuperation, only for the patella to crack again during a gym work-out. He had two comeback attempts for his county Gloucestershire, but neither succeeded. He never played for England again.
Clint Malarchuk, ice hockey, 1989
The name of Malarchuk’s team – the Buffalo Sabres – seemed darkly ironic on March 22 1989, when the goaltender got caught in the neck by the blade of an opponent’s skate. It severed his carotid artery, sending huge spurts of blood pouring onto the ice. ‘Please take the camera off it,’ said a horrified commentator, as the Sabres trainer rushed on and pinched Malarchuk’s artery to stem the flow. Eleven spectators fainted, two had heart attacks and three players were sick on the ice. The player lost a third of his blood and needed 300 stitches. Had the wound happened just an eight of an inch higher, he would have died before medics could have saved him. As it was, he jokingly asked doctors to get him back in time for the third period. Amazingly, he resumed playing just 11 days later – but suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.
Wayne Shelford, rugby union, 1986
Playing for the All Blacks against France in the ‘Battle of Nantes’, Shelford found himself at the bottom of a ruck in which a boot to the face took out four of his teeth. Even worse, another opposition boot ripped open Shelford’s scrotum, leaving one testicle dangling free. Incredibly, he insisted on being stitched up on the touchline so he could carry on playing. But when a further blow to the head gave him concussion, Shelford had to be substituted. He watched the rest of the game from the stand. To this day he has no memory of it.
Patrick Battiston, football, 1982
The foul that never was. During a World Cup semi-final against West Germany, France’s Patrick Battiston ran through to chase a pass, only to find opposition goalkeeper Harald Schumacher racing straight at him. Schumacher leapt in the air, knees raised, cracking three of Battiston’s ribs, damaging his verterbrae and taking out two of his teeth. The Frenchman lost consciousness, and looked so bad that teammate Michel Platini thought he was dead. Oxygen had to be administered on the pitch. Incredibly, the referee refused to award a penalty. (It’s decisions like this that landed us with VAR, folks.) Told afterwards about Battiston’s teeth, Schumacher replied: ‘If that’s all that’s wrong, tell him I’ll pay for the crowns.’ The German later won a newspaper poll to find the most unpopular person in France. Second place went to Adolf Hitler.
Kate Walsh, hockey, 2012
A stick to the mouth during Britain’s opening match of the London Olympics fractured the captain’s jaw. Walsh had to undergo surgery to insert a plate. Incredibly she managed to return for the later stages of the tournament, even though anti-doping regulations meant her recovery had to be completed without the aid of pain-reducing steroids. Enduring nerve injections in her face before each subsequent game, Walsh captained the team to a bronze medal.
Akil Mitchell, basketball, 2017
Contesting a rebound for the New Zealand Breakers against the Cairns Taipans, Mitchell was struck in the face and fell to the floor. A horrifying moment in the footage shows a flash of something white on his cheek. It couldn’t be …? Mitchell himself soon realised that yes, it was: ‘With the palm of my hand I felt my eyeball on the side of my face.’ His eye had come completely out of its socket. ‘That’s when I started freaking out a little bit.’ Mitchell reported that he could still see from the eye while it was hanging out. Even more bizarrely, it went back in so well that by the next morning he was suffering from nothing more than a slight headache. But he now wears glasses when he plays.
Salim Sdiri, long jump, 2007
What sort of injury would you expect a long jumper to suffer? Dislocated knee? Spinal damage? Concussion? Well, you’d be wrong. But then you weren’t expecting the problem to be a stray javelin, were you? Nor indeed was Sdiri himself, as he went through his warm-up routine at a 2007 athletics meet in Rome’s Olimpico Stadium. On the far side of the field Finnish javelin thrower Tero Pitkämäki slipped, delivering his javelin so far off target that it caught Sdiri in the back, penetrating his shoulder blade. The Frenchman was rushed to hospital, where doctors initially thought the blade had missed his vital organs. However, two days later it was found that the tip had actually torn a hole in his liver, as well as puncturing his right kidney. Despite an attempted comeback after months of rehab, he failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.
Paulo Diogo, football, 2004
Another injury that was nothing to do with the action itself. Having set up a teammate’s goal for Swiss team Servette, Diogo ran to the fans behind the goal in celebration. As he jumped up against the metal fence, arms aloft, his wedding ring got caught. When he dropped back to the ground, a large section of his finger was torn off. Doctors at Zurich hospital were unable to reattach it, and indeed had to amputate the remaining part. To complete Diogo’s misfortune, the referee thought the delay caused by stewards searching for the missing finger was an over-celebration of the goal, and booked him for timewasting.