With reports on Wednesday that Liam Picken is ‘doubtful’ to return from his concussion injury in 2018, as well as Koby Stevens’s appearance on Fox a couple of weeks ago discussing his ongoing concussion issues, alongside the weekly occurrence of players leaving games early due to concussions, we felt it was time to take a look back at the historical place of concussion reporting.
According to a Trove search for ‘football concussion’, 1930-1939 was the peak year of reporting concussion incidents (acknowledging, of course, that some of these hits might not be precisely on our topic and the number of newspapers published and included in Trove varies over time!).
There were a wide variety of early incidents. On 30 September 1912, for example, under the headline ‘FOOTBALL CAUSES CONCUSSION’, the Geelong Advertiser reported that ‘While playing football on Saturday, William Sinclair, 25, of 67 Robert street, Northcote, was struck on the head with the ball, and sustained concussion of the brain. He was admitted to the Melbourne Hospital’ (p. 3).
The previous year, The Daily Telegraph reported that ‘Harold Pye, a son of Mr. W. H. Pye, dentist, while playing in the final of the junior football competition on Saturday, received injuries to the head which resulted in concussion of the brain’ (1 August 1911, p. 8).
In this era, the headlines were generally about the same: ‘Concussion at Football’ and ‘Concussion After Football’ recur. But there are occasional more dramatic headlines: ‘Football Violence: Concussion of the Brain’, ‘Football Brutality: More Concussion of the Brain’, ‘Plays Football Though Suffering from Concussion’, ‘Football Accident: Boy with Concussion,’ and ‘Rough Football: Player Sustains Concussion of the Brain’.
And then there was ‘Football Collision – Concussion of the Brain’, which reported that ‘Cooper who was playing on the half back line for Fitzroy, bumped against a Geelong player, and fell. He was assisted off the field and was examined by Dr. Newman, who found he was suffering from a slight concussion. As he regained consciousness on arrival at the hospital, whither he was taken in the ambulance, he was not detained in the institution’ (Geelong Advertiser, 24 July 1911, p. 2).
There were heightened scenes too in Melbourne on 17 June 1933, when, it was reported, ‘There was a dramatic close to the League football match between Hawthorn and Fitzroy yesterday. Twice during the last few minutes of the game the result was in the hands of a man who was unconscious of what he was doing through concussion… Hawthorn made a desperate late rally and reduced Fitzroy’s lead to four points at one stage. Then Roy Zanders [sic] (Hawthorn) missed an easy mark in front of goal. Later he kicked a possible scoring shot from a free out of bounds. Collapsing in the dressing room after the match, he was removed to a private hospital with concussion’ (Advocate, 19 June 1933, p. 5).
Concussions were happening at all ages divisions and levels of footy. The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate reported in April 1939 that ‘Samuel Abraham, 10, of New Lambton, received concussion playing football at Kurri Kurri on Saturday. His condition was satisfactory last night’ (April 17, 1939, p. 9).
And ‘Robert Shaw (25), farmer at Tuckombil, came into contact with the knee of another player in a football match at Coleman’s Point, Lismore, during the week-end, and had to be treated for concussion by a doctor,’ it was reported in 1932 (‘Players Collide,’ Northern Star, 18 April 1932, p. 6).
In this period of large numbers of occurrences, concussions were even happening to umpires. ‘During a football match between Maitland and Kardinia at Maitland (S.A.) on Saturday,’ the Sporting Globe told its readers in 1937, ‘G. H. Thomas, League umpire, bounced the ball. The ball rebounded to his face. Thomas, suffering from concussion, was taken to the Maitland Hospital. A former umpire (J. Whitehead) who was on the ground, took charge of the match’ (4 August 1937, p. 3).
All in all, it seems that the brains of footballers have long been under attack in this game. Here’s holding out hope that this coming weekend sees no more new concussions, at any level.
Play well, play safely, footballers (& umpires)!