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The University of Southampton
Health Sciences

Football legends help Southampton researchers investigate playing injuries

Published: 28 February 2023
Football legends help researchers
Football legends are helping Southampton researchers.

Football heroes from across the south are helping researchers looking into sports-related injuries in the largest UK study of its kind.

Former players including Lawrie Sanchez, Linvoy Primus and Kevin Bond are taking part in the FOCUS study at University Hospital Southampton.

More than 40 retired professional footballers nationally have contributed to the study that is exploring head injuries, cognitive impairment, foot and ankle injuries and osteoarthritis.

The research is delivered in the south with the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Southampton Clinical Research Facility and the University of Southampton. Research is also taking place at locations in Nottingham, London, Manchester and Leeds.


Lawrie Sanchez with the FA Cup
Lawrie Sanchez with the FA Cup

High risk of injuries

Professional footballers are at high risk of injuries through playing the game, according to previous research studies published by the BMJ. During the past 25 years, the three most common injury areas in professional football have been to players’ thighs, the foot/ankle area and the knee.

Lawrie, who is a favourite from the ‘Crazy Gang’ era at Wimbledon FC, retired from professional football in the 1990s. He is well known for scoring the winning goal for Wimbledon against Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final. He said:

As a former professional I am interested in what toll football has taken on my body, particularly as I had several ankle injuries throughout my playing career. If the study can help future players, then that’s a bonus.”


Linvoy Primus
Linvoy Primus

Saints and Pompey stars

Portsmouth club legend Linvoy Primus is also taking part in the research. He made 198 appearances for the club between 2000 and 2009. He said:  

Football at all levels can be punishing on the body and I had some difficult knee issues in the later part of my playing career. I am fortunate that I haven’t since had any long-term problems. I hope this study can reveal if former players are more likely to have pain and osteoarthritis, and that this can help the next generation.”

Kevin Bond made 140 appearances for Southampton in the 1980s. He also spent time at Norwich City, Manchester City and AFC Bournemouth throughout his playing career. He said:

I had no hesitation in taking part in the FOCUS study. Ankle protection and welfare was a constant in my playing days, as the nature of the game meant there was always potential for injury. I hope this study will create greater awareness of ankle health to help footballers prevent long-term injuries in the future.”


Professor Cathy Bowen
Professor Cathy Bowen

X-ray insights

Retired professional footballers who have taken part in the study have been completing questionnaires on their playing careers, along with undergoing X-rays of their feet and ankles at Southampton General Hospital.

Professor Cathy Bowen, Professor of Podiatry at the University of Southampton, is leading the Southampton arm of the study, with Dr Kristin Veighey, NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow in General Practice.

Cathy said: “We are delighted that so many professional footballers have agreed to take part in this study. Feet and ankles take a great deal of impact during football, yet they are often the most forgotten joints when it comes to thinking about preventing long-term injuries.

Our research programme involves optimisation of foot health for active living. We have found that people who have foot problems in later life are less likely to take part in physical activities which may then affect their ability to maintain active longer-term health.

With this study we want to highlight and provide better understanding of longer-term foot problems such as arthritis in footballers and how we could help prevention of these with the players in the football Academies today.”

Post-career problems

The FOCUS (Foot and ankle Osteoarthritis and Cognitive impairment in retired UK Soccer players) study is led by the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Nottingham. It is co-funded by the Versus Arthritis Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis, the Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association.

Professor Weiya Zhang, Chief Investigator for the study and Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, commented:

"Football is a game that inspires millions of people, but on a personal level professional footballers often suffer from diseases due to sports-related injuries after their careers on the pitch are over.”

These can include repetitive foot and ankle injuries which places them at risk of subsequent chronic pain and osteoarthritis. FOCUS is the biggest of its kind involving living ex-professional footballers and general population comparison group in the UK. The research project is also investigating the implications of repeated heading of the ball, head injuries and concussion which may be related to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.”

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