Cheltenham Town: Always on hand but happy not to be called into action
AT EVERY Cheltenham Town home match, Alistair Smith can be seen patrolling behind the dugouts in case the worst should happen.
The Stroud-based GP has just started his 17th season as the Robins' club doctor, supporting senior sports therapist Ian Weston and offering his expert advice before, during and after games.
Since attending his first match in 1996 – the FA Cup first round replay against Peterborough United – Smith has seen Cheltenham transform from a part-time, Southern League outfit, to a fully professional established Football League club.
He initially shared duties with Dr James Pearson, who has since retired after a long association with the Robins.
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Having been invited to the Peterborough game by the partner of former director Wayne Allen, Smith was immediately hooked and despite coming from St Helens, where rugby league dominates, he quickly adopted Cheltenham as his favourite team along with Everton.
"The Peterborough game was great fun, I was well looked after and I've been coming over ever since," Smith said.
"Not a lot was expected of a team doctor back then and it was just nice if there was one, but there was no obligation for the home team to have one.
"But in Cheltenham's third season in the Football League, the regulations changed and since then for crowds over 3,000 you are required to have a doctor for the teams and one for the crowd, so two doctors have been in attendance since then."
Smith was asked to look at Chris Zebroski, who had been ill in the build-up to last week's home match against Southend United.
The forward was sent home, not well enough to feature.
The highlights of Smith's time with Cheltenham include the pair of play-off final victories in 2002 and 2006 and the FA Trophy triumph at Wembley in 1998.
He was the man who stitched Craig Armstrong's face after a nasty collision in the 2006 final at the Millennium Stadium, which forced him off in the first half. He also had to pop Burton Albion player Adam Bolder's shoulder back in place with some help from former assistant sports therapist Allan Gough.
"It is a privilege to be able to do what I do and I thoroughly enjoy it," Smith said.
"I turn up at about 2pm, by which time the players are listening to shocking music and reading their programmes.
"If any of them want to see me they can, but I'll visit the first aid post and the control tower and also introduce myself to the referee, so he knows where I'll be should I be required.
"I've only had to go on the pitch twice, for Craig Armstrong and Adam Bolder, but Wes is such a brilliant physio, so he deals with a lot of the cuts.
"I am there for more serious lacerations or if anyone needs to go to hospital.
"I'll also stick around after the game for any players who have picked up knocks.
"Sometimes players take a knock to the head and are not too sure where they are, but they will still want to carry on playing. Footballers will never willingly leave the pitch.
"Over the years the players I have got to know best are those who have been unfortunate with injuries like John Finnigan, Shane Duff and Jamie Victory.
"If the players don't get to know me too well, it's probably a good sign for them!"
Smith said the way Bolton's Fabrice Muamba was treated after going into cardiac arrest during last season's match at Tottenham shows how vital it is to have medical expertise on hand.
Muamba's heart stopped for more than an hour, but he made a remarkable recovery.
"If someone is going to collapse with cardiac arrest, the best place is probably a Premier League football pitch," he said.
"Muamba would have died anywhere else, but he received first-class emergency support right from the off.
"The first guy to him was Andy Mitchell, who used to be physio at Cheltenham and the way the whole thing was handled was a credit to everyone involved."