CONCERNS about the number of collapsing professional football players continue, but their governing bodies refuse to launch an investigation into the cause. This is despite pressure from nearly 100 footballing legends.
Matt Le Tissier, 55, who played for Southampton and England, said: ‘During my 17 years on the pitch, I never witnessed professional footballers collapsing during play.
‘On 25 November 2021 I tweeted to FIFPRO (the Fédération International des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels, worldwide representatives for 65,000 professional footballers): ‘Hey @FIFPRO are you not a little bit concerned about how many of your members are suffering heart problems during matches? If you are what action are you taking on behalf of them?’
‘Within five minutes my phone rang. It was Bobby Barnes, a contemporary of mine who became president of FIFPRO and had worked at the PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association]. He said, “This kind of stuff has always happened. We’ve got all the data here, but you just never really heard about it”.’
Barnes mentioned Marc-Vivien Foé, a 28-year-old Cameroonian and West Ham midfielder who died of a heart attack in 2003 during an international match for Cameroon, and Fabrice Muamba, the 24-year-old Bolton midfielder who in 2012 suffered a cardiac arrest during an FA Cup match against Tottenham Hotspur. His heart stopped for 78 minutes.
Le Tissier told him: ‘The reason you can name them is because it’s such a rare occurrence. You’re the representative of the players. It’s incumbent on you to do something. Something is happening that isn’t normal, you need to sort it out.’
There was no further response. Le Tissier said: ‘I continued to watch and continued to see young fit athletes collapsing. I was getting more and more frustrated as to why no investigation was taking place.’
He then sent texts to just under 100 footballers he knew to ask if they would sign a letter expressing concerns. He said: ‘To my astonishment, 99 per cent of them agreed to sign asking for an investigation into the collapses.’
In April 2022, the letter was emailed to Maheta Molango, CEO of the PFA, the trade union for professional players in England and Wales, who at the height of vaccine hesitancy provided the opportunity for members to discuss the vaccine with the then deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam. Le Tissier was one signatory, while others included England legend Kevin Keegan, Liverpool and Zimbabwe’s Bruce Grobbelaar, former manager Rob Newman, and Glenn Cockerill, who played more than 700 games for teams including Sheffield United, Southampton and Fulham.
The letter included this startling graph collated from newspaper reports. (See data used here compiled by Josh Guetzkow.) If this was nothing new, why the sudden interest in reporting it? Press interest usually wanes when incidents become commonplace, and if players contracted covid, they received thorough medicals after recovering to check they were fit to play.
Molango met Le Tissier, listened to his concerns, and referred him to Dr Charlotte Cowie, the FA’s doctor. (The FA is the game’s governing body whilst the PFA, as a trade union, does not have specialist medical resources.) A Zoom call was arranged with Le Tissier, cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra and pathologist Dr Clare Craig, both of whom had expressed concerns about covid vaccine safety. Dr Cowie was flanked by two cardiologists of her own choosing.
Le Tissier said: ‘Dr Cowie tried to palm me off saying, “It’s always happened, it’s just never had this much publicity”.’
Dr Craig said: ‘We showed Dr Cowie data we had from Transfermarkt.com [a football statistics site] and from newspaper reports. We were mostly asking questions and she was mostly evading them by saying that it was a small sample size, but at no point did she deny it was a possibility.’
Le Tissier was not the only one who noticed the increase. Journalist Yaffa Shir-Raz began collecting data after she published an article looking at all athlete collapses. She shared it with Josh Guetzkow, assistant professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who said: ‘There was definitely an uptick in player cardiac issues in 2021.’
Guetzkow is currently collating data from Transfermarkt.com on player collapses, to be published later this year. There is existing Transfermarkt analysis that looks at data between 2015 and 2021. It showed a 63 per cent increase in players collapsing with heart conditions in 2021 (44) compared with the previous highest recorded year of 2019 (27). Le Tissier is also recording collapses and has a 51-page list on his website mlt7.com.
Ed Dowd is a former Wall Street analyst and BlackRock portfolio manager. In his book: ‘Cause Unknown’: The Epidemic of Sudden Deaths in 2021 & 2022, he devotes 23 pages to the collapse and sudden death of ‘hundreds’ of healthy young athletes, including footballers. He said: ‘The deaths are doubly unusual because those athletes died despite the immediate on-site presence of emergency medical responders trained and equipped to resuscitate people.’
The theory is that covid vaccination adverse events may have caused this increase: the timing certainly fits.
In August 2021, just as the football season started, I reported on collapsing athletes including footballers here, many directly linked with covid vaccination.
Irish footballer Roy Butler, 23, a defender for Waterford City, died four days after receiving a Janssen covid vaccination in August 2021. His aunt Marian Harte tweeted (and later deleted): ‘My beautiful nephew Roy Butler passed away today after the miracle “jab”. I’m heartbroken and so so angry.’ The Janssen vaccine can cause blood clots and Butler had been suffering headaches before slipping into a coma, never to wake up.
Also in August 2021, former West Ham midfield footballer Pedro Obiang, 29, was diagnosed with myocarditis a few days after receiving a Pfizer jab, confirmed by his club doctor.
As the season progressed, professional football player collapses came thick and fast. In September there were 14 reported and 19 in October. November recorded nine. According to a Wikipedia page recording players who died during their careers, 18 died in 2021 – the highest number since records began in 1874 – only two died in 2020, the height of Covid, but also the height of lockdowns, while eight died in 2022 and seven in 2023. (Wikipedia is not an infallible source so not all deaths may have been recorded.)
Full side-effects were unknown at the beginning of the vaccine rollout but later it transpired that Pfizer and Moderna mRNA jabs could cause the potentially fatal heart condition myocarditis which is more prevalent in young males. We know the vaccine has killed and disabled members of the public so there is no reason to think footballers are immune.
In October 2021, the Premier League said that 68 per cent of players were fully vaccinated with 81 per cent having received one jab. They said they followed government guidelines recommending the jabs until restrictions were lifted in February 2022.
Contrary to FA assertions that players could choose whether or not to take a vaccination, there was intense pressure on them. By October, the Guardian told unvaccinated players they were putting lives at risk and should not be picked to play.
No one denies there is a background rate of sudden deaths, as a study published in 2020 shows. The FIFA Sudden Death Report (FIFA-SDR) was produced by Saarland University, a German public research university, and looked at all players from amateur to Premier League. Years covered were 2014 to 2018 and showed 617 player deaths. (Research is continuing and player collapses can be reported here.)
Dr Craig said: ‘Athletes have suffered cardiomyopathy before but it’s not enough to explain what we’re seeing. We observed a rise with football matches being stopped for these injuries; we then observed a fall. That’s equally relevant. When they stopped jabbing footballers, the problem went away.’ According to Wikipedia, numbers of players who died fell from 18 in 2021 to eight in 2022, and seven in 2023.
After the meeting with Dr Cowie, whenever Le Tissier saw a player collapse he sent her an email with the press cutting. ‘I did this for a couple of months,’ he said, ‘and in November 2022, she said casually, “As you know, professional footballers in England and Wales are no longer being encouraged to have any more vaccinations.” She assumed I knew but I didn’t because they’d kept it to themselves.’
None of football’s governing bodies has committed to looking at whether vaccines have harmed any of their players so that ‘lessons can be learned’. FIFPRO did not respond to interview requests while the FA and PFA said they had followed government guidelines.
Le Tissier said: ‘An independent investigation would mean that people were open-minded enough to look at the reasons why we’re seeing what we’re seeing. That’s all I’ve ever asked for. We need to know the truth.’