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Working Life: Football behind closed doors

Dr Patrick Ryder talks about being the doctor of a football club during Covid-19 – and winning 8-0


I am picked up in Wigan by Martin Gleeson, assistant coach of Wasps Rugby, and we travel to their training ground in Coventry for Covid-19 antibody testing, which my private GP company, Matthew Ryder Medical (MRM), is sponsoring as part of a pilot study. The Wasps head coach meeting is at 7am, followed by testing. 


After testing the team, we find that 41% of players have had Covid-19 and have antibodies. I take the train back to Wigan for the match this evening.


I go to the office of Mike Hickman, my accountant, who introduced me to the Covid-19 PharmAct antibody test, to discuss the progress of the antibody testing pilot. Our pilot has completed 211 tests to date, and 41% have tested positive for Covid-19, including 34% IGG positive, which is the standard used to test whether a vaccine is effective. Sports are planning for the next three to four years. Many may not survive.


I arrive at DW Stadium in Wigan, for which I introduced protocols with my team to allow football to be played behind closed doors. All staff and visitors have temperature and symptom checks at the entrance. We held a Covid-19 education session at the stadium on 12 June. This was happening while Wigan Athletic, our community club, went into administration.

It was a complete shock with all staff losing their jobs, including me, apart from the five staff overseeing and supporting the administrators. My team was then recalled to work at the administrators’ request. I had a PCR swab test done on 12 July, which was negative.

The crowd medical team for today’s match is reduced to me, the medical co-ordinator and three St John Ambulance volunteers. Usually I would be with 14-20 St John volunteers, three paramedics and a medical coordinator. Former staff, including stewards, have offered their services free for the club.


Emergency roles, risks and the safety officer report are discussed at the medical briefing before I head for the control room. Although all our swab tests are negative, we observe social distancing, regular hand-washing and wear face masks. We use the ‘3 Cs to avoid’ strategy from Japan – crowds, confined spaces and close contacts.


Kick off. To watch the club you love and work for play in an empty stadium, with the heart and passion ripped out by administration and an uncertain future, is devastating for the fans, the staff and the community of Wigan. With the added long-term concerns, the future looks bleak. We could go the same way as Bolton or Bury – clubs and communities that have been destroyed by their owners.


Half time. The score is Wigan Athletic 7, Hull 0. There have been no medical incidents. I talk to Danny Fox, a player who has been suspended for the match. Team morale is high, both for the club and the players, despite the struggles.


Full time. Wigan 8 – Hull 0. We are 12 points clear of relegation. But we could face a 12-point deduction for going into administration, so no one is relaxed. 


The medical team and the St John Ambulance team are stood down with no incidents. I manage to get a match-day programme in the director’s lounge, which could be a collector’s item in this perfect storm of administration, no crowds and Covid-19.


Debrief. I email the administrators about our concerns and vision for the club.

For more information on antibody testing, email Dr Ryder at

Profile – Dr Patrick Ryder

Roles – Lead stadium doctor for Wigan Athletic and Wigan Warriors; head of medical team, Ireland Rugby League; sessional GP in Wigan (two sessions per week); piloting PharmAct Covid-19 antibody in the UK, Ireland and Spain; private GP and sports doctor for Matthew Ryder Medical.

Education – Diploma in insulin management, diploma in sports and exercise medicine.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Mohammed Butt 25 September, 2020 10:37 am

Is this an article or an infomercial???