For the latest in my series of interviews with Hitchin Town FC personnel I have chosen Sam Backhouse the Club Sports Therapist. As with previous interviewees such as Layne Eadie, Josh Bickerstaff and Michael Jones there is again a fascinating story of having to battle against a career defining health issue as far as Sam is concerned.
Sam was born in Stotfold and moved to London when six months old. She saw her first football game when 3 years old and watched either Arsenal or Barnet as she grew up. It is necessary to go back to Sam’s childhood to trace her interest in the world of physiotherapy. When she was young she was very sporty and excelled at 100 metre running, long jump and football. But at 13 years old she suffered a freak fracture of her knee cap. During her treatment her physiotherapist happened to be married to the Barnet captain Greg Heald. She gave Sam free tickets to watch Barnet and through her Sam got to speak to the Barnet players. Sam was inspired to get interested in the world of physiotherapy because growing up she had seen Sammy Margo at Barnet, football’s first female chartered physiotherapist. Sam completed her work experience with the medical team and the Barnet first team in 2003 when the manager was Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Allen and Sam confirmed that he deserved his madcap reputation with his unconventional managerial methods.
Sam decided she wanted to do a sports therapy degree at the University of Bedfordshire. This was a three year course and it involved spending half the time working at Barnet and Leyton Orient. Sam joined Barnet full time after leaving university in 2007 when Paul Fairclough was manager and ex Luton Town striker Mark Stein was the club physiotherapist. It was not an easy job as she often worked 7 days a week. Nonetheless she would have liked to have stayed at Barnet but their financial offer was not very attractive. On Sam’s behalf Stein spoke to the then Harrow Borough manager David Howell who offered Sam the job as their club Sports Therapist. She stayed at Harrow for 4 years between 2008 and 2012 and then followed Howell when he moved to become manager at St Albans. Interestingly Sam’s full time job at this time was at Barnet FC’s Community Trust working with the PFA managing the players’ community work. She later joined a baby swimming company for 3 years and then a technology company in the hospitality department.
In 2012 Sam took time out to work at the London Olympics. She worked in the Olympic village providing physio and massage for international athletes and got to hold a gold medal won by an American rower.
When David Howell was sacked by St Albans Sam took some time off before returning to Harrow Borough under their manager Dave Anderson. Sam considered Anderson to be as much a maverick as Martin Allen and she told me that when Anderson and Allen had a rant it made Brett Donnelly seem as tame as a pussy cat! At Harrow she met a certain Charlie Horlock, then an 18 year old goalkeeper. Sam then returned to St Albans when James Gray became their manager as she knew him from earlier in his career. At St Albans Sam met Jack Green and Elliott Bailey as well as Trey Charles who later joined Hitchin.
Sam had spoken to Mark Burke before joining St Albans but when James Gray was sacked by St Albans Sam followed Gray to Barton Rovers where she met future Canary Charlie Smith. But in the summer of 2018 Sam spoke to Mark Burke again and agreed to come to Hitchin Town, originally to help out the existing physiotherapist Connor Moran. But Connor soon decided to pursue other opportunities and Sam became the main Club physiotherapist, a position she still holds today.
But Sam’s life was turned upside down early in 2020. The game with Leiston on 13 January was abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch and the next morning Sam was walking down her stairs at home when she tripped over just four stairs from the bottom. Not surprisingly Sam’s memory is blurred but she hit her head and suffered some kind of seizure. Sam’s saving grace was that her husband Martin was at home and heard a loud noise as Sam fell. He had just been about to fit his earphones to start work and if he had have done this before Sam fell he would not have heard the accident. Had this been the case the consequences could have been catastrophic because as Sam had suffered concussion she could easily have died. As it was her husband rushed to her aid and an ambulance arrived within four minutes.
It took the paramedics an hour to move Sam in to the ambulance and they used two canisters of gas to ease her pain. She was found to have fractured two of her vertebrae in the thoracic region. Had the angle of her fall been just slightly different she would have been paralysed. Sam spent a day in resus before being moved to a general ward for four days. She had CT scans which were sent to specialists at Addenbrookes Hospital who gave the go ahead for Sam to return home.
At home she was originally confined to bed for six weeks and was very restricted for movement with no bending or stretching allowed. She was heavily drugged up to counteract the pain. When the drugs wore off Sam said the pain was unbearable. She had to sleep at a 45% angle for ten weeks. Sam said she was very grateful that Mark Burke visited her with flowers on behalf of the players who also cheered her up with plenty of text messages many of them as cheeky as you would expect.
Then to make matters worse the Coronavirus pandemic struck which meant Sam could not go to hospital again after her first return which had shown the fracture had not healed. Since then all her appointments have been via video. Eventually Sam was allowed to go for short walks but had to have someone with her in case she fell. Before the first lockdown Sam had seen just one training session but she is now back monitoring the players. She will never make a 100% recovery and has permanently lost some movement in her back. Sam now continues her treatment with a specialist spinal physiotherapist.
Despite the horrific consequences of her fall Sam remains positive and is very grateful she did not end up in a wheelchair or even worse. She does not feel sorry for herself and I am certain she will make the best possible recovery. She retains her sense of humour and I liked the way she said that she was cheered up in the first lockdown by thinking that the rest of us were joining her in her personal lockdown. Sam is very grateful to her doctors and physiotherapists and not least to her husband Martin for his terrific support. She is very popular with the players and having also spent time with her, it is easy to see why.
BY ROY IZZARD