First Meeting: The Gaffer Effect

Friday, April 3 2020


So you think you've got a hernia?! In proud association with 108 Harley Street 

Chapter Three

Co-authors: Johnny Wilson, Ben Dinnery and Stel Stylianou

Photo: Dimitri Houtteman on Unsplash

Be careful what you wish for…

Pepper paused before knocking on the Gaffer's door, her heart was racing and palms sweaty. She recalled her meeting with Jock McTopdog during her interview three months earlier. Jock had complemented Pepper on an excellent presentation; he was forthright and brutally honest about the role and the difficulties of transitioning from a hospital environment to working at the coalface of professional football. She remembered, impressing upon him, that she was ready and this is all she ever wanted to do. She told Jock: "I'm sure with time, you will agree that I will become an invaluable member of the staff and an integral part of the team." Jock nodded his head and gave her a knowing smile.

Jock had a fearsome reputation, no quarter was ever asked from him, and indeed, none were given by him either. McTopdog was a man who wanted things done his way. No one was safe. Only last month, three of Town's best players had been sold due to a lack of commitment; they were more interested in self-fulfilment, self-gain than being footballers. No one was bigger than the team. Stories of Jock's ruthless discipline had gained almost mythical status under his tenure. Four years ago, he stormed the DJ booth at a local nightclub when the Under-18s decided to enjoy some post-match celebrations following a hard-fought 5-4 victory: "Defences win titles," he lambasted his players over the mic. "Your defending this afternoon was dogsh*t! Get your arses home now, and I expect to see you in training at 9am tomorrow – sharpish!" A character, who found his vocation in life: a love for football that never once left his heart. A heart, strewn across a battle-hardened no excuse sleeve, for all to see.

And down the rabbit hole she went!

Pepper took a deep breath and rapped on the door… "Come in," boomed a loud voice.

The first thing Pepper noticed when she opened the door was a wall adorned with framed images. A collection of photographs featuring Jock standing next to some of football's biggest names - a who's who from the past and present - former players and world-renowned coaches; Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger, Sir Bobby Robson, George Best, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff… Pepper's eyes darted around the room. She had heard rumours of the infamous "Wall of Fame" but hadn't believed the hyperbole. Standing in awe, Pepper felt as though she had ingested a shrinking potion and was heading down the rabbit hole. The coaching staff said it was intimidating. Now she knew exactly what they meant!

"Sit down love," Jock said as he took off his glasses and gave them a quick clean. "Hmmm, no eye contact, this must be bad," thought Pepper. Her mind quickly teleported Pepper back to being a child, feelings of vulnerability came flooding back, she held onto her notepad, for comfort, as if it were a teddy and proceeded to take a pew. Pepper felt as Jock was studying her, reading her body language, analysing her from top to toe, until finally, he made eye contact: "How did the boys do today?"

The Handover

Pepper fumbled with the pages of her notebook. She began by regaling the GPS data and commented that there was a lot of high intensity running in the session. Jock seemed happy to hear this.

Pepper went on to say that a couple of the players were reporting DOMS like symptoms in their legs but nothing serious. Jock didn't believe in DOMS and gave her a scornful glance. Pepper had enough emotional intelligence to remember not to mention DOMS again from the glare he gave her.

Pipe Down Jock

She then mentioned Francie's name. Jock leaned back on his chair and muttered: "What's wrong with him now?" Pepper did her best to explain the mechanism of injury, describe his pain and the uncertainty that lay around his diagnosis and prognosis. Jock seemed all too unimpressed with the situation. He started grilling her with questions, some she had already answered: "When will he be back playing? Why did it happen? What were his bodyfat measurements? Did he carry out his off-season conditioning program?" With each question, he became more animated. Pepper thought that he might simply just combust in front of her, such was his increasing rage. Pepper did little to temper his emotions with her replies, and Jock ended the conversation abruptly: "I want him to be the first player through the door, and the last out. I want him on double sessions every day, and I want him in on Sunday too. Pepper nervously nodded in agreement, now was not the time to start discussing "load management" or the importance of psychological rest and recovery. Jock looked at her, shook his head with disappointment and then turned to the tactics board on the wall behind his desk. Pepper sat on the chair, trembling and dejected. She didn't know if the meeting was finished or not; she didn't know if she should just leave. After a few moments, she decided to rise from the chair and make a run for the door, but as soon as her bum lifted, Jock turned around and roared at her: "Get Francie for me now, tell him I want to see him in my office right now!"

Pepper could see the veins in his forehead pulse with electric anger, they sort of glowed ruby red with a tint of purple. Pepper was distraught as she had to tell Jock that she let him go home at the same time as the other players. Jock was apoplectic at this stage. He sighed, and with a raised eyebrow, replied: "In the quiet words of the Virgin Mary – come again? What do you mean Francie has gone home?" He then roared at her to get out of his office and order Francie to come back to the club immediately. As she tried to escape McTopdog's bollocking continued: "I don't care how you do it, but you get on the blower to Francie and tell him to get his arse back here, and you do your bloody job. Am I clear? "Crystal," replied Pepper. "Good. Now take your My Little Pony notebook and get out of my office."

Dreams never come cheap Pepper

Photo: Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Pepper limped out of his office down the corridor to the medical room. She was trembling on the verge of tears and felt very lonely. She very gingerly went to get Francie's medical file, to find his number, and advise him to return to the club. However, when she finally did access his notes, she realised that in all the panic, she never even asked him where he lived. What was his date of birth? Did he have an email address? And, most fatally of all: What was his telephone number? "What a sh*t show," she thought. "The first day on the job and I'm probably going to get sacked," she ruminated. Her mind was racing from one catastrophic thought to another. She was unable to control her feelings and burst into tears.

The Greatest Kitman of them All

On his daily rounds, Kev the greatest self-proclaimed "kitman" was on his way, begrudgingly, to the medical room to collect the dirty towels. He wouldn't usually ever "fetch" the kit or the dirty towels after training, that was the duty of the scholars. However, he was still adjusting to the new guidelines from the FA, which stated that scholars were no longer required to carry out such tasks as cleaning boots or collecting laundry from around the club. Anyway, Kev had an ulterior motive for collecting the dirty linen today… He burst into the medical room, in his usual, over-the-top boisterous manner, keen to know everything and anything he could about the new physio in the club.

@StanleyParkSG on Twitter

Be patient: YOU WILL be Fine Pepper

He startled Pepper, who tried to collect herself. Kev was a lovely soul. He could see that she had been crying. He introduced himself and sat down. Kev spoke, and Pepper listened. It was like medicine for Pepper, just to hear a friendly voice talking to her. After five minutes, Kev finally asked Pepper: "What's the matter?" She relayed the events of the day with the Gaffer. Kev smiled, took out his mobile, scrolled through his phonebook and scribbled Francie's number on her notepad. He looked at her, collected the towels and said: "I'll be in the kit room if you need a cuppa and a friendly ear." Pepper mustered a wry smile.

A word from the wise

In that very moment, when Pepper felt she was going to lose everything, a friend appeared unannounced with the one thing she needed most. "The universe is a wonderfully magical place, Pepper, and it is when we are in the midst of our toughest of times, that we must believe that there is a way forward. For if we believe, we can make it happen."

Back to the story

Pepper composed herself, she had a glimmer of hope now, her journey, her dream was still alive. In her mind, she smiled. She made the call…

To find out what happens next, make sure you tune in for next month's chapter. To follow the story from the beginning click here

Ben Dinnery

Ben Dinnery


Ben is football’s leading injury specialist. The ‘go-to’ guru for big hitters like Sky Sports, ESPN and NBC Sports when they need data. Or the BBC, talkSPORT and the broadsheets when a quote is required. His unique insight has helped provide a better understanding of what is really happening in the treatment rooms.

Johnny Wilson

Johnny Wilson


Johnny is a respected physiotherapist and sports scientist, specialising in football injuries and rehab. Johnny has headed up the medical departments at Chesterfield, Scunthorpe and Notts County. Overseeing everything from player-specific training loads to pre-signing medicals. He has a proven record working with elite athletes in Private Practice and is regularly called upon throughout Europe to deliver presentations on the latest rehab innovations.

Matt Nesbitt

Matt Nesbitt On TipTV


Matt's short, unremarkable football career was ended by his own bad driving. His long, distinguished career as a football tipster was ended by his own good advice. Because bookmakers don’t like a winner. First, they closed his accounts. Then his members’ accounts. Then his tipping service. And now they employ him as a consultant. Funny old game.