Lionel Messi shrugged off the bloodied nose he received against Manchester United last Wednesday – but in the 1950s even seemingly innocuous wounds could have extreme repercussions.


Frank O’Farrell tells a harrowing tale of a medical emergency during his time playing for Preston North End in the Fifties. Had it happened today, it is hard to imagine it would have come so close to tragedy.

He was suffering from a heavy cold when his nose started to bleed during a training session.

‘Jimmy Milne took me into the treatment room,’ O’Farrell says, ‘but he couldn’t stop the bleeding. It just kept bleeding, bleeding, bleeding. So they took me to the hospital, Preston Royal Infirmary, and they couldn’t stop it either.

‘They started injecting me with something that would clot the blood, vitamin K I think it was. I lost half my blood supply, four pints of blood. I had the last rites. The Jesuit priest from the local Catholic church came in and gave me the last rites. They thought I was going to die. It was that serious. I was in there for a couple of weeks.

‘They never found out what it was except that there was a weakness in the blood vessel. They thought this could have been the result of when I had a clash of heads with my own centre half at West Ham. We were going for the same ball and I needed six stitches in my eyelid, my eyelid was hanging off. I spent a couple of days in London Hospital where they sewed the eyelid back on.’

Grim stuff, but with O’Farrell any story, however dark, usually comes with the a humorous twist. ‘After I’d recovered,’ he says, ‘I was talking to some of the men in the ward and they said that when I came in they asked, “Who’s that?”, and were told, “Oh, some Irishman called O’Farrell.”

‘So they all thought I was some Irish drunk who’d been in a fight.’

Tony McNamara, an Everton player from 1947-57, suffered a succession of injuries that eventually blighted his career – and it was a leg wound, incorrectly treated, that had particularly disastrous consequences.

McNamara says the trainer strapped up his leg with the wrong side of the tape against his skin. ‘It meant my leg couldn’t expand and I was in a lot of pain.

‘In the end they sent a doctor from the club to the house and when they peeled off the tape the sticky side was against my leg. It pulled off all the skin. The shock of that caused psoriasis to set in.’

McNamara says he doesn’t think he ever fully recovered from this, but he compliments Everton on standing by him more than half a century later. ‘I have two false knees now,’ he says, ‘and to give the present Everton set-up their due it was they who paid for me to have them done.

‘When the club found out that I was struggling, rather than let me go on an NHS waiting list they looked after things for me. That’s one thing about Everton now, they look after their former players.’


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.