Injuries are a key feature of our game, and many a win has been soured when players are badly hurt on the field. Last week we saw West Coast beat the Pies at the MCG, the first time they’ve done this at the home of footy since 1995. While this was undeniably a significant win for the club, Nic Naitanui’s ruptured right ACL could only be seen as a heart-breaking loss for the club and distressing for Naitanui, who missed the 2017 season recovering from a reconstruction of his left knee (Fox Sport, 15 July 2018).
There is, as readers might suspect, a long history to the place of knees in footy!
In 1922, in Perth’s The Daily News,an article on ‘Football Knee’ was written ‘By a Doctor’. Like ‘tennis elbow’, horsemen’s ‘riders’ strain’, cricketers with wrist injuries – it was ‘football knee’ which ‘gives rise to most anxiety among partisans of any athletic organisation’. What happens is ‘a trusted player in a difficult positions, makes a sharp turn in his attempt to pass an opponent, or shoots out his foot to trap the ball; he falls in evident pain; the trainer rushes on to the ground. A consultation is held and the man is carried off’. The Doctor writing explained the impact this has on footy fans: ‘the club’s anxious supporters learn that’ a ‘stalwart of the club’ has ‘sustained a knee injury’ and is out of the team. A tragic scenario was presented by the Doctor – weeks like this ‘drag on, and all that the supporters see of their hero is his hobbling into the grandstand’ (17 October 1922, p7).
Such knee injuries were reported as ‘Costly in Football’ in 1933. It was noted that ‘Football official and players’ were ‘becoming perturbed at the number of serious injuries on the field’ and that ‘The greatest danger of the common knocks is the knee injury’. Part of the concern was financial: ‘Knee injuries … have involved clubs in considerable expense in looking after players injured’. Because players ‘with the knee’ is ‘such a costly performer these days … club officials are seeking for a solution of the trouble’. When cartilage is ‘damaged or wrenched’ the result is ‘puffing and fluid’ with ‘Hot-air treatment and massage’ not always successful ‘and often it has been necessary to have the cartilage removed’. In terms of injury management, the injured player, ‘should receive immediate treatment’ rather than waiting ‘for some time … The delay is often disastrous’ (Sporting Globe, 14 January 1933, p3).
The ongoing effect of knee injuries was lamented as ‘The footballer who does suffer a knee injury is seldom the same afterwards’. What was said to happen was that ‘With his confidence shaken, he is always a little sensitive in congested play’. It was noted that additional leg exercises would help, and ‘enable the players to stand up to harder work without fear of their ankles and knees going on them’ (Sporting Globe, 14 January 1933, p3).
As well as exercise, physical supports were also available to those who played footy. Standard knee supports were advertised in the press. Hartley’s Sports Store on Flinders Street sold knee and ankle bands for 3/6 (Sporting Globe, 24 June 1933 p2) and amongst The Melbourne Sports Depot’s Football Goods, on 55-57 Elizabeth Street, were elastic knee supports for 3/6 (Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 18 August 1915, p1).
While knee supports may well have assisted individuals, they were also at the centre of some controversy too. There was a reported incident in 1928 of an aluminium knee shield worn by Footscray player, Arthur Stevens, ‘the giant ruck man’ (The Age 2 July 1928, p6). The support was said to be ‘held in place by a jointed rod’ with the ‘join forming a protruding knot’ (Kalgoorlie Miner, 3 July 1928, p6). During the second quarter of a match between Footscray and Melbourne, Melbourne player Collins reportedly collided with the knee-shield and was ‘stunned by striking his head on the rod’, and another Demon ‘Chadwick was also seriously hurt by it’, while more Melbourne players also ‘complained of injuries’ (Kalgoorlie Miner, 3 July 1928, p6). Footscray players near Collins disputed some of the circumstances, and ‘swear positively that the boot of Stevens, and not the apparatus, struck Collins’ (The Age. 2 July 1928, p6). The Melbourne captain, Warne-Smith, took up the issue with the umpire – but the umpire reportedly said ‘there was nothing in the rules to guide him’ so Stevens could not be asked to remove the shield (Kalgoorlie Miner, 3 July 1928, p6).
The incident was discussed at a meeting of the Victorian Football League (VFL) where the Melbourne Football Club ordered that the knee shield be examined to see if it could be banned. Dr K McCarthy of Footscray made the case that Stevens needed to wear the device and that it was similar to other splints worn by players in the past. The device was inspected at the meeting and it was requested that the manufacturer ‘be asked to improve upon the appliance’ by covering the steel joints with rubber. The VFL Chairman, Dr W C McClelland, also threw the game’s field umpire, Coffey under the proverbial bus by saying he ‘would have the power to stop the use of the splint during the match, as it was not part of the uniform’ (Age, 14 July 1928, p18).
We generally think it’s best to keep away from sharp objects while playing football, and the Children’s Page of the Kalgoorlie Miner in 1934 gave the helpful suggestion of a game of ‘knee football’. The game involves two teams, cushions to kneel on, and two balloons of different colours as well as an umpire with a whistle to adjudicate – apparently ‘The boys usually enjoy the game more than the girls, although both are equally capable of joining in the game’ (11 December 1934, p2)!
We hope everyone enjoys watching and playing all sorts of footy this weekend and knees remain in good working order on and off the fields.