Robbie Earle: First-class medical facilities must be made available to all players at all clubs
WHEN I first signed for Port Vale, a player's medical was no more taxing than bending your arms a couple of times and coughing on command. Bob's your uncle, that was it, and you were told to "go through there and talk to the manager".
We never gave a second thought about it being particularly rudimentary. We were all fit lads, after all.
During a match, no matter if you had torn a hamstring, broken a leg or dislocated a shoulder, trusty old physio Lol Hamlett would run on with his bucket of cold water and his "magic" sponge.
Things had started to change even before I moved Wimbledon and, by the time I retired, the Premier League had really swung into action and checking on players' fitness was a whole different world to what it had been.
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Sometimes you wondered whether it was always necessary. We had scans, ECGs, blood tests – and you had to ring the club doctor to ask whether you could take an aspirin for a simple headache.
There were soon clubs where you could barely move for all the sports scientists, psychologists and nutritionists. Often, there were more support staff than there were players.
But then something happens like Fabrice Muamba's collapse at White Hart Lane last Saturday and you realise just how brilliant the medics involved in football today are.
Those few minutes – in fact, those 78 minutes during which Muamba, one of the fittest players in the Premier League, was technically dead – showed the wonders of our medical teams.
We can only hope the Bolton midfielder gets his health back let alone his career and, fortunately, it already looks as if he is on his way to a recovery.
It has reminded everyone how close the football fraternity is. It has struck a chord with players all over the world. It could have happened to anyone.
Even the great Lionel Messi was wearing a shirt wishing Muamba well, and there have been goals and wins all around Europe and the rest of the world dedicated to him.
Now it is important these high medical standards are further improved – and to make sure the same expertise is available at all levels.
There is enough silly money floating around in the game so players at Port Vale and Crewe Alexandra should be looked after and cared for just as well as anyone in the top flight. There are going to be accidents we can do little about, but thankfully we have to make the most of the know-how we have these days to stop a lot of bad things before they happen.
Of course, there is a difference between underlying health problems and the freak injuries that we will always see from time to time.
Nobody could have done much to prevent the ruptured pancreas I suffered in a reserve match for Wimbledon. I went hospital, but it wasn't diagnosed for a few weeks.
Wimbledon were great with me and I was flown to the best guy in the country to help me get better. Sadly, it was months of frustration and agony before I admitted my playing days were over.
The way clubs deal with injured players can help bring the changing room closer together.
When Stoke boss Tony Pulis pledged support for Rory Delap after his broken leg in 2006, or Mama Sidibe after his cruciate ligament injury this season, I am sure their team-mates will have felt that extra connection to the club.
They knew they would also be looked after if ever they were unlucky enough to have a lengthy spell on the sidelines. And there are plenty of complaints and niggling knocks that are picked up in today's rigorous medicals.
Some are more obvious than others and responses to any given scenario are different from club to club and manager to manager.
If Ledley King ever came on the market, no-one would sign him without knowing about his infamous dodgy knee, and that he could only train once or twice a week.
I am sure there are Stoke fans who wish the club had taken a chance on Demba Ba, he of the dodgy knee who has since gone on to score 16 goals for Newcastle this season.
But despite the Senegal striker scoring a hat-trick for the Magpies at the Brit this season, Stoke still haven't had their noses rubbed into it quite as much as Glasgow Rangers once did.
We spent £5m to bring John Hartson to Wimbledon, even though he had just failed a standard medical at Ibrox because his knee didn't stand up to scrutiny.
He did great for us and then headed back up to Glasgow to bang in a load of goals and win trophies for Celtic. Ouch!