How to pass a football medical…

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Matt Nesbitt pulls back the strapping on what really goes on in a football medical

If you think that the football medical is merely a sideshow of Transfer Deadline Day. A formality to be rattled through in a few minutes, while the player’s agent is getting the last couple of critical contract terms over the line – usually his percentage and the sell-on fee (for the more-than-likely already arranged transfer). You’d be wrong. It’s crucial, often as a get-out-this-deal-free card for the player and/or the club.

John Beresford tells a great – and revealing – story about his proposed move to Liverpool from Portsmouth. Moments after his dream move was derailed by the medical team at Anfield, he passed a medical for Newcastle United – over the phone.

An Englishman’s fish is a Frenchman’s poisson

C’mon, you remember John Beresford… He was the diminutive blond left-back that played behind David Ginola for Kevin Keegan’s mid-nineties nearly men.

He was the one blamed for about half of the goals they conceded. Grossly unfair because he spent most of his time being double-teamed by the opposition winger and right-back, while the immaculately coiffured Frenchman in front of him strolled about on the halfway line clicking his fingers above his head.

“Garcon… Garcon. Le ballon, s’il vous plait.”

The story goes that John was on his way to join Graeme Souness’ Liverpool having impressed for Pompey in a cup tie (despite missing the all-important penalty in the shoot-out). But during the medical, an x-ray revealed a problem with his ankle. Apparently, it hadn’t set correctly following a fracture playing for Barnsley – four years and 150-odd games previous.

No-fault of the club, of course. They sent all their injuries to accident and emergency in Barnsley General hospital during that period.

But Liverpool were (and remain) bastions of the highest possible standards. And at the time were only a few seasons past an unmatched period of domestic and European domination. If they’d started taking chances on half-fit full-backs in 1992, it could’ve been decades before they began to challenging for the major prizes once again.

(Yes, I know that actually did turn out to be the case. But it wasn’t due to their medical team playing fast and loose with floating cartilage).

Anyway, the deal was off, and a gutted Beresford was marched off the premises.

As one gate slams, another one opens

Enter Kevin Keegan.

With the clang of the Anfield gate slamming behind him still ringing in his ears. John’s phone rings.


I know what you’re thinking.

‘There were no mobile phones in 1992! The credibility of this story has been compromised. ABORT! ABORT!’

I thought the same. But that’s how John tells it, and I’m not calling him a liar – he’s got an MBE now, y’know. Plus, there is no way of checking, and it is key to success of his story and this article.

So how about we say his agent had a car phone. Happy with that…? Great.


With the clang of the Anfield gate slamming behind him still ringing in his ears. John’s agent’s car phone begins to ring.

John is still disconsolate in the passenger seat. Head bowed. Eyes filled with tears.

The agent pulls his BMW 5 series (probably) to the curb and answers. It’s Kevin Keegan.

‘Hello Mr Keegan. Let me hand you over to my client John sat next to me, disconsolate in the passenger seat. Head bowed. Eyes filled with tears.’

‘John, Kevin here. Come and sign for me. I’d love it.’

John Beresford MBE spots an emergency parachute when he sees one but is a professional. Immediately ‘fessing up what has just happened in the Anfield treatment room, explaining to KK about the badly set ankle.

He needn’t have worried.

‘Oh, don’t worry about that. We’ve just signed Paul Bracewell – his ankle is f#@ked!’

And that was that.

Trust me; I’m a football manager

Later that day, Beresford was ushered through the medical department at Newcastle United with Keegan cajoling and heckling the physios throughout. And the deal was done.

He went on to play 179 games for Toon over six seasons, during the most exciting period in their history. So, this is no criticism of Keegan or Souness. It merely highlights the grey area around the football medical.

(Paul Bracewell also managed over 70 games for Toon. Training once a week and being packed in ice and pumped full of pain-killers the rest of the time).        

Harry Redknapp has spoken openly about using a failed medical as an excuse to put the kybosh on transfers. Usually to make way for a late Peter Crouch or Niko Kranjcar deal.

So don’t make the mistake of thinking that football medicals are black and white. Or that medical teams or a latent injury carries more weight than the people running the club.

Football is a game of opinions. And so is match fitness, my friends.

Matt Nesbitt swapped his short, unspectacular but joyous football career for a much longer, successful one as a football tipster.

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