Pitch-side therapyKarin Lock interviews John Sheridan, author of The Limping Physio: A life in Football
Almost an octogenarian, yet feeling 20 years younger, John Sheridan’s warmth and enthusiasm is palpable when we speak. A football industry legend, Sheridan worked for more than 30 years as physiotherapist to some of the best players the beautiful game has produced. Now he is telling his extraordinary story in a newly published memoir The Limping Physio: A Life in Football.
Growing up in Luton, John showed promise at club trials. At age 14, he suffered a terrible injury, resulting in a 14-month hospital stay. Despite his life-changing disability, John’s passion motivated him to train two local teams (whilst working full-time at Vauxhall Motors). He studied f irst aid; an FA injury treatment course; then started teaching. It took ten years to become a chartered physiotherapist.
So begins an incredible story that saw John head-hunted by David Pleat as physio for Luton Town FC in 1979. He did not want the job: “I didn’t think I could run onto a pitch in front of all those people”.
Persuaded to take up the role, he followed Pleat to Tottenham in 1986, working with the mid-eighties “glory boys”: Ardiles, Waddle, Mabbutt, and Hoddle.
This memoir started out as a gift to his grandchildren. They had seen TV footage of grandad in an FA Cup final and wanted to hear his stories. Putting pen to paper, all John’s memories came flooding back and, with help from his son Paul, a book started to take shape. At this point Pitch Publishing approached him with a book deal.
The Limping Physio chronicles the high and lows of working in the tough world of professional football. Being a “different kind of physio”, Sheridan often received verbal abuse on the field but credits both Luton and Tottenham supporters for protecting him. His biggest challenge came in the shape of Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne who joined Spurs in 1988 under the tutelage of manager Terry Venables.
Nursing Gascoigne, after his career-threatening knee injury in the 1991 Wembley FA Cup final, put ‘the limping physio’ under immense pressure. Gazza had just been crowned the “world’s best player” because of his World Cup performance the previous year. Overnight John shot to fame as the paparazzi monitored his efforts to rehabilitate Gazza who was due to transfer to Rome’s second team Lazio.
The recovery process took one year, and John speaks with candour about the experience: “The scrutiny was unbelievable. I knew that if he didn’t play again, my reputation would be in tatters”. But Gazza passed the fitness test and went to Italy. Sheridan continued to do the job he loved, returning to Luton Town as well as consulting for Chelsea amongst other teams.
What are his best memories from such a distinguished vocation? He remembers the great welcome he received from Luton and Tottenham fans. With Tottenham, he got the opportunity to “run onto the Wembley pitch not once but twice: in 1987 and 1991.” And at Luton? “It was 1983 and the feeling of joy when we avoided relegation from the First Division.”
Reflecting on his amazing career of over a thousand league games, Sheridan is immensely grateful: “I wouldn’t be in top-league football today as I don’t fit that image of the super-fit physio”. He also acknowledges his unique position: “Nowadays you have multidisciplinary teams, but the old-fashioned physio did everything – psychologist, therapist, dietician, and doctor.”
It is this combination of hands-on practical experience and sheer determination that makes The Limping Physio an inspirational read. It provides anecdotes aplenty and gives insight into sports medicine and successful medical interventions. It also shows how important mental strength and positivity are for recovery.
Now retired, Sheridan keeps fit by swimming four times a week. Notwithstanding his own achievements, he is in awe of the Paralympians: “It shows if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything with hard work and dedication.”
With part of the book sales going to charity, John’s compassion for others is as trademark as his limp.