Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest at White Hart Lane this year highlighted the dangerous nature of any top level sport. Thankfully, the Bolton midfielder survived the dramatic events of March 17th but throughout football’s past there have been many who have not been so lucky. In this list we take a look at those who lost their lives playing ‘the beautiful game’.
10. James Main
The death of Hibernian player James Main is an emotive tale made even more poignant by the fact it occurred on Christmas Day. Hibs took on Partick Thistle in the Scottish First Division on a frozen pitch, which by modern standards was unplayable.
The young Scottish international defender had reportedly complained about the conditions, claiming the teams were risking ‘life and limb’ by playing. Due to the conditions the regular Hibs’ captain Sam Allen was injured in the warm-up and Main captained his side for the first time. A couple of early injuries saw the sides both playing with 10 men, and for Hibs it was soon to be nine. Partick’s outside-left Frank Brandscombe attempted to tackle Main just before half-time but lost his grip on the frost and sent his foot into Main’s stomach. Main was unable to continue.
After seemingly recovering from the blow, Main joined his team for a post-match meal before travelling home. The 23-year-old’s condition worsened during the night and after two visits from a local doctor, Main was placed in hospital the following day. The force of Brandscombe’s tackle was enough to rupture Main’s bowel. Although in severe pain, reports suggest that Main was heard singing the hymn ‘He Died of a Broken Heart’ on the eve of his passing.
9. Antonio Puerta
One of the most well covered deaths in the footballing world was that of Spanish defender Antonio Puerta. On 25th August 2007, the Spanish international wingback was playing for UEFA Cup champions Sevilla in their season opener against Getafe.
35 minutes into the game, Sevilla had won a goal kick and instead of returning to his position, Puerta remained in his sides’ penalty area. Puerta leant forward with his hands on his knees, before crouching on the ground, seemingly trying to regain his breath after facing Getafe’s previous attack. After a few moments Puerta crashed to the floor, his team-mates instantly acknowledged something was wrong and sprinted to their friend’s side.
Fellow Sevilla players Andres Palop and Ivica Dragutonovic realised that he was unconscious and ensured that he didn’t swallow his tongue. After some treatment from the medical staff the Spaniard came to and was able to leave the field of play without help. Unbeknownst to him, Puerta had suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch and as he returned to the dressing room he suffered several more. Three days later Puerta’s death was announced, the cardiac arrests had caused multiple organ failure and irreversible brain damage, he was 22.
8. Di Jones
The most innocuous death caused by an on-field incident comes from 1902 and Manchester City player David ‘Di’ Jones. The Welsh international was one of City’s star players and was thought to be a key part of a City side looking to bounce back from relegation.
On August 17th 1902, Manchester City were gearing up for the new season with a pre-season practice match, Jones was selected to partake in the game. At the turn of the 20th century pitches were not known for their quality of surface and this was reiterated by an incident, in which, Jones fell on a shard of glass, causing a nasty gash across his knee.
Despite treatment from the club doctor, Jones’ wound turned septic. A few days later his death was announced.
7. Soldier Wilson
Although his death was over a century ago, David ‘Soldier’ Wilson’s passing is still one of the most dramatic tales ever recounted from the football field. The former 1st Battalion soldier, who served in the Boer War, had moved down from Scotland in 1905 to continue his playing career in the north of England. Having represented Hull City in the second tier of English football, the centre forward joined Leeds City in December 1905.
Wilson had been in a rich vein of form for his new side, scoring 13 times in his first 15 games for the peacocks, but had entered the game against Burnley on October 27th without a goal in five matches. His luck didn’t change in the match and with an hour gone the game was still goalless. Wilson began to struggle and retired to the dressing room with intense chest pains.
The game continued but with just 15 minutes left on the clock injuries to Wilson’s team-mates Singleton and Lavery saw the 23-year-old return to the field of play against medical advice, not wanting his side to lose. Wilson lasted a matter of minutes upon his return and left the pitch for a second time with the chest pains getting too intense for him to continue. Wilson passed out in the team baths. His death was attributed to heart failure possibly linked to his heavy smoking.
6. Serhiy Perkhun
Ukranian goalkeeper Serhiy Perkhun was enjoying the most successful period in his young career in 2001 having joined Russian giants CSKA Moscow as well as winning his first cap at senior international level.
Only four days after making his international debut, Perkhun was called into domestic action with CSKA who took on Anzhi Makhachkala in the Russian First Division. According to reports, Perkhun was having an incredible game, managing to keep the opposition at bay with a number of impressive saves. With only 12 minutes left on the clock, a long ball forward to Anzhi striker Bundun Bundunov gave Perkhun a decision to make. Although dropping outside of his box, meaning he couldn’t use his hands, Perkhun rushed out to the ball and the oncoming striker, attempting to win the challenge with his head. The resulting clash resulted in Bundunov losing consciousness. Perkhun appeared to have escaped the challenge comparatively unscathed.
Due to the sickening nature of the collision, the goalkeeper was taken to a local hospital after the game and released with nothing more than a broken nose. Perkhun lost consciousness on the way to the airport following his examination. He remained comatose for nine days until he passed on 28th August 2001.
5. Cristiano Junior
For Indian club Dempo, a long, hard 2004 campaign had culminated in the Goa club competing in the final of its country’s League Cup, facing Bengal club Mohun Bagan. The club entered the match as favourites and had within their ranks the highest paid player in Indian football in the form of star striker Cristiano Junior.
With 77 minutes played, Junior had proved his worth to the side and had scored the only goal of the game so far. Dempo continued to pile on the pressure and soon Junior was in on goal and had a chance to secure the cup for his side. Keeping a cool head, Junior slipped the ball past goalkeeper Subrata Paul to give his side a 2-0 lead. Although it appeared goalkeeper Paul was too late to prevent the goal, the keeper still launched himself at Junior in what appeared to be an act of frustration and petulance, swiping the forward with his arms as he jumped into his path.
Immediately after the collision Junior collapsed to the floor. Although rumours surfaced of previous heart problems and spinal injuries, Junior’s death was recorded as a heart attack. Paul was suspended for two months.
4. Jumadi Abdi
In March 2009 the Indonesian Super League provided the setting for one of the more bizarre footballing deaths. PKT Bontang hosted Persela Lamongan in a game the away side were expected to dominate. The home side featured Indonesian midfielder Jumadi Abdi who had played for his country at youth level but failed to break his way into the senior national set-up.
There were ten minutes remaining of the first half when Abdi tried to control a long pass forward. The ball bounced up as Adbi ran towards the opposition defence and was violently scythed down by Persela defender Deny Tarkas who’s high boot caught the midfielder straight in the stomach. The force of the wild challenge was enough to rupture Abdi’s intestines. The damage caused to Abdi’s intestines saw bacteria leak from the organ and spread throughout his body, eventually causing multiple organ failure.
In an attempt to save Jumadi Abdi’s life, doctors performed surgery on the 26-year-old three days after the match, but he never recovered from his injuries. Deny Tarkas received a yellow card for his challenge.
3. Hrvoje Custic
One of the more preventable tales of bereavement in modern football comes from Croatia and their elite competition the Prva HNL. NK Zadar faced HNK Cibalia in March 2008 in a mid-table clash between two sides unlikely to be relegated or qualify for European competition. Former Croatian under-21 international Hrvoje Custic started in midfield for the home side having returned to his boyhood club following a spell away at NK Zagreb.
With the game merely minutes underway Custic jostled with an opposing player whilst attempting to chase down a loose ball, the 24-year-old received some innocuous contact from his opponent which caused him to loose his balance and fall towards the byline. Unbelievably, encasing the pitch at NK Zadar’s home ground is a concrete wall which sits about three metres back from the playing surface. Tragically for Hrvoje Custic, the attacker was unable to control his fall and having lost his stability at such a high speed, was unable to prevent colliding head first with the barrier.
Custic was rushed to hospital, in a serious condition, where he was operated on the following day and placed into a coma. Custic never regained consciousness and his death was announced a few days later.
2. John Thomson
In Scottish football there is no bigger game than the Old Firm derby between Glasgow clubs Celtic and Rangers. In September 1931 the two sides took to the field at Ibrox Park in front of 80,000 supporters in a match that, as ever, would have a massive bearing on where the Scottish League title would end up. Celtic fielded Scottish international John Thomson in goal, who, at the age of 22 had already amassed over 200 games for his club and represented his country Scotland on 4 occasions.
Thompson was renowned for his bravery and agility and by half-time he had managed to keep the Rangers strikers at bay, with the score standing at 0-0. The second half saw Rangers press forward looking for that illusive goal with much of their attack focussed on striker Sam English. Tragedy struck when English was slipped in behind the Celtic defence and looked likely to give his side the advantage, Thomson sprang from his line and threw himself at the feet of English, his head colliding with the attacker’s knee.
The force of the clash fractured Thomson’s skull and ruptured an artery in his right temple. He was taken off of the pitch on a stretcher and rushed to a local hospital. The young goalkeeper’s skull fracture was 2 inches in diameter and the severity of swelling resulting from the damage forced doctors into an operation designed to relieve the pressure on his brain. The operation was unsuccessful and John Thomson was pronounced dead later that night.
1 – Marc-Vivian Foe
Having appeared at both the World Cup and Champions league, commanded over £10million in transfer fees and represented Cameroon 64 times by the age of 28, Marc-Vivian Foe was a player of immense talent. In the summer of 2003, after enjoying a successful season at Premier League club Manchester City, Foe joined up with his international colleagues in France for the Confederations Cup. Cameroon had managed to triumph over both Brazil and Turkey in the group stage with Foe playing In both wins, setting up a semi-final contest with Columbia at the home of his former club Lyon.
Cameroon were leading 1-0 after an early goal and were deep into the second half when Foe collapsed in the centre circle with nobody around him. His team mates, opposition players, officials and physios rushed to his aid and it soon became clear how serious the situation was. Foe died of heart complications resulting from undetected hyperthropic cardiomyopathy in the 72nd minute of the match, and although he was still alive when he reached the stadiums medical centre, nobody could save midfielders life.