Bournemouth is the right medicine for ex-Bok doctor
JOHANNESBURG - In the space of two weeks in November 2015 Dr Craig Roberts swapped the Springboks and rugby union for Bournemouth football club and the English Premier League.
Who, you ask, is Dr Roberts? He’s the man who looked after the Springbok players as team doctor between 2008 and 2015 and served under coaches Pieter de Villiers and Heyneke Meyer and featured at two Rugby World Cups.
Roberts’ last match as the Boks’ team doctor was on October 30, 2015 - the team’s bronze medal game against Argentina at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England - and two weeks later he was working with the players at AFC Bournemouth and out of the Vitality Stadium, as the club’s chief doctor.
The team had months earlier been promoted to the Premier Division for the first time in their 125 year history after winning the Championship in the 2014/15 season.
“My future with the Springboks was uncertain and I’d been looking into making a move to football anyway,” said Roberts in an interview with Independent Media.
“As luck would have it, I got the opportunity to join Bournemouth two weeks after the Boks finished the World Cup campaign.
“I always wanted to work in the Premiership; as a sports doctor I think it is one of the pinnacles of sport.
“I’d been approached over the years by other football teams, but the timing was never right. I was working with the Springboks and loving it, but at the end of 2015 I decided to make the move. Bournemouth had just been promoted and they were restructuring a little. It’s been so good.”
The Cherries, as the club are known, struggled this season and have to win today and have other results go their way if they were to stay in the Premiership for a sixth straight season. They faced Everton in the non-celebratory half of the city of Liverpool on the final day of the season today, with relegation to the Championship on the line.
“We’re a small team from a smallish city and no one gave us a chance when we went up five years ago,” said Roberts. “Everyone thought we’d be straight back down into the Championship after just one season in the Premier League, but we stayed up for five years in a row.
“Being a part of the Premiership and being able to go to places like Old Trafford and other spectacular stadiums is seriously bucket-list stuff. I’ve had the best view in the house for five years; it’s what you dream of as a kid.
“The atmosphere at the grounds is just incredible, the passion of the fans; I’ve been spoilt, week in and week out.”
Roberts said there had been many highlights over the last five seasons but the biggest thrill of all for a small club of Bourneouth’s calibre is “when we managed to take one of the big scalps. Those wins stick in your mind and they’re memorable.
“We had a 3-0 win against Chelsea a few seasons ago and that was great, and then every time you win away is a big deal. It’s tough going to other places and winning; I don’t think people understand the challenges. To get those away wins is huge; it’s a big deal.”
One of the stranger experiences in his time with Bournemouth of course was having to work inside a “ bio-bubble” to complete the 2019/20 season (due to the spread of Covid-19) and play inside stadiums without fans.
“It’s been different; the whole league worked in this bubble. There was strict access control at the grounds, and you could be in contact with only certain people. We were all tested (for Covid) twice a week, and this last week I had my 20th test, and if you know what those tests are like, it wasn’t nice.
“You’ve got gloves on all the time, you’re carrying extra, and you’re in PPE constantly. It’s been a strange environment, but necessary. You also get used to it after a while.
“The hardest was playing in empty stadiums. The TV people did their thing to create atmosphere and crowd noise for the television audience, but in those big stadiums it was eerily quiet.
“It had a feel of pre-season training. The players definitely struggled without a crowd; the fans are the ones who lift the players at the end of games and often pull them through. Also, the time seems to last forever; some halves never seemed to end.”
One other thing that Roberts has enjoyed in the Premiership, compared to rugby, is the reduced number of injuries to players. “Obviously football is a little more aerobic than rugby, and the players cover more distance in a game. Also, there are less contact injuries and the rate of injuries in games isn’t as high as in rugby. In rugby a guy like myself will get onto the field up to 20 times to treat someone; that doesn’t happen in football.
“The treatment of players is also far more individualised in football and that’s down to having more medical staff on the team, and that’s thanks to the bigger budgets. In rugby you’ll have two or three physiotherapists for a squad of 50; here at Bournemouth we have five physios looking after 25 players.”
Roberts said he hoped to stay on with the club for some time still. “The club have been so good to me and my intention is to stay on. It’s been a tough season, but I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. We’ll fight on.”
Roberts’ “best opposition” list of the 2019/2020 season
Toughest opponents: Liverpool
Who played the most attractive football? Manchester City
Most respected striker: Sadio Mane
Most creative midfielder: Kevin de Bruyne
Best defender: Virgil van Dijk
Best goalkeeper: Alisson Becker
Most intimidating away stadium: Anfield
Most impressive stadium: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Most vocal fans: Crystal Palace fans