Gary Lewin is leaving Arsenal after 28 years with the Club.
He arrived at Highbury as an aspiring goalkeeper in 1980 but soon turned his attention to physiotherapy. Now Lewin is established as one of the world's finest in his field.
We caught up with Lewin shortly after the announcement that he will join the England national side on a full-time basis. In an exclusive interview, the long-serving Arsenal physio reflects on his long association with the Club, describes his role in player signings and reveals why Michael Thomas almost didn't score that famous goal at Anfield in May 1989.
Gary, tell us about your new role with England.
Obviously the job of a full-time physiotherapist in the England team came into full-time capacity when Mr Capello took over. It is something he believes in and he wanted to put that in place alongside a doctor. So over the last few months the FA put together a job spec, advertised it in April which I applied for because I have doing it for the last 12 years and then they offered it two or three weeks ago, Since then I have been finalising the details with them.
How difficult was your decision to leave Arsenal?
It was an impossible decision to make. Being at Arsenal all my working life, first as a player, then travelling away to train as a physio before coming back. I have never really worked anywhere else and don’t know what life is like outside of Arsenal. The opportunity came up not only to work with the England national team on a full-time basis but to go around other sports, Europe and around the world to seek out the best practices around the world. It was one I couldn’t turn down. It took a lot of soul-searching and a lot of thought but in the end it was one I just couldn’t turn down.
It is very, very difficult to say goodbye to Arsenal. This is probably the only job in the world that would get me to leave Arsenal because it has been part of my life since I left school. Obviously it will always be part of my life. I have some fantastic memories over the years, some big, big achievements and some big disappointments but as I said it will be part of my life forever.
How will your England role change?
My main role is looking after the team. That will expand to going around the clubs and working with the medical teams so we can almost put out an international player profile. That will mean when we go away to tournaments we will have a detailed profile on all the players that will help the management team select teams and squads. But then when we go away the continuity of the treatment can be maintained. So when we go around the clubs the actual patient care is at the ultimate limit. I can continue all the rehab and prehab that has been going on with the players. The clubs will benefit, the player should benefit and the England management should benefit because all round the players are being better catered for.
Alongside that from a career point of view to be able to go around and get the best working practices in other sports is a real opportunity. What has a cyclist done to make them win so many medals? How do we prepare for the Olympics? How do rugby players deal with so much trauma? How is it treated? How do they treat injuries in Brazil, Australia, South Africa? From a professional point of view it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
Do you remember when it all started for you as a physio?
I was working at Guy's Hospital having qualified in June 1986 and was actually working in intensive care and medical wards. I got a call from George Graham asking for me to come up and see him - at the time I was doing the Reserve team on a part-time basis - and he said to me that the physio at the time, Roy Johnson, was leaving and would I like to take over. My first game at Arsenal was, during my notice period at Guy’s, Nottingham Forest away where Arsenal fans will remember Charlie Nicholas had an horrendous knee injury. That was a rude awakening for me and I think now it is over 1,200 games since then.
Of course you arrived at Highbury in 1980 as a goalkeeper. How close were you to being a professional?
I think I was well short. I did a two-year apprenticeship at Arsenal in the era of Pat Jennings, George Wood and Paul Barren. I think I was well short. I had the opportunity to go to other clubs and try to be a professional footballer but at the time I decided to get a qualification, mainly under the advice of Fred Street, the ex-Arsenal and England physio. That was when I got interested in physiotherapy.
You were Reserve-team physio at the age of 19. Could that happen today at a top club?
No, because in those days the minimum you needed was the FA diploma and a first aid certificate. So nowadays you need to be a Chartered physio or registered to the HPC.
What are the highlights of your Arsenal career?
I don’t think you will ever beat that night at Anfield in 1989, ever. It was a unique evening. I have been so, so lucky to have so many memories. The Cup double in 1993, the Cup Winners' Cup in 1994, the Double in '98, the Champions League Final. That was a highlight but also one of the biggest disappointments was losing to Barcelona. I have just been blessed with so many happy memories that it is difficult to pick out one. But the Liverpool night in '89, you will have to go some way to beat that.
Which memories stand out on the medical side?
Interestingly enough from the '89 game, fans might remember Michael Thomas had a medial ligament injury against Wimbledon 10 days before the game. We had a battle for those 10 days. I remember telling George [Graham] on the day of the game the Michael is fit to start but I can’t guarantee he will finish. That shows what I knew at the time because what a finish he had for us!
I think any player you get back from injury, especially long term, you take a lot of satisfaction from. But the biggest satisfaction I get is watching Arsenal win. You are part of that team, the backroom team that has done everything they can to get everyone on the pitch and performing to the highest level. That has got harder and harder over the years. When I first started I worked on my own, now we have four. There is the general satisfaction of being involved in such a successful, friendly club.
What have been your lowest moments at Arsenal?
I think the only disappointments I have had are personal. We had a kit man here called Tony Donnelly who was here for many, many years and six months after he retired, he died from cancer. George Armstrong, who collapsed and died here on the training pitch — we spent a lot of time resuscitating him and trying to keep him alive. So too David Rocastle’s death; you won't meet a nicer fellow in the world. That is the greatest sadness, when people you have been with, worked with, pass away. Over the years people come and go so often and the nice thing is when you meet up with them again. Football is a universal language but it is also a universal friendship. You build them up in this working world and you have them for the rest of your life.
What has been the secret of your longevity at Arsenal?
Probably madness! I love the job, the job has been my life for such a long time and I think that shows in everything I do. I have enjoyed every minute of it, even the lows, but you take them with the highs. I enjoyed every working minute, working at a fantastic club with fantastic people. The club look after you, they are very professional, appreciate what you do and let you get on with it. I think that has been it. It is very satisfying what I do and I’d like to think the club has been very satisfied with the work that I have done in 22 years.
How has the Club changed since you arrived?
Dramatically. As I said when I first got here it was me, George Graham, Theo Foley and the kit man. Now we have a backroom staff at London Colney that goes into double figures; but then the demands have got bigger. You are working 24/7 and of course the intensity of the game has increased. The players are now finely-tuned athletes. So it has developed beyond all recognition really.
Tell us about your relationship with Arsène Wenger.
That has been one of the hardest things about leaving. I have been up front and honest with Arsène as this has been developing and he has been the same with me. You won’t get a better manager, you won’t get a nicer person to get on with. He is someone that lets you get on with your job, trusts you to do that and lets you know when he thinks things aren’t going right but also when they are going well. I just think the testimony to his work is what he has achieved in such a short space of time.
Do you have an input when Arsenal consider signing players who have had career-threatening injuries, such as Marc Overmars and Kanu?
Yes. They have an intensive medical with the doctor and all the backroom staff have a big say. There are players that have been here before but haven’t signed for medical reasons but you won’t read about it because that is how the Club works. You only hear about the player once they are signed. We have a big say and I think the whole club does. The fitness staff do, the scouts do, the medical team do, so they build up a complete player profile when they arrive. The backroom team uses top cardiologists, top orthopaedic surgeons who report their feelings to us and we report them to the Board and the manager.
Physios deal with a player's physical issues. Do they deal with emotional issues too?
You almost become a social worker. We use sports psychologists, fitness conditioning coaches but the all-round general health is done by the medical team which includes myself, Colin [Lewin], Ian Beasley the club doctor and masseurs. We work as a complete team. Colin Lewin, Joel Harris, John Kelly, Craig Gant, Tony Colbert, Ian Beasley, John Cook, David Wales — we are a complete medical team that work closely to look after the team.
The fans have often chanted your name at matches. How does that make you feel?
It makes me feel fantastic. They are such a special set of fans and have made me feel so special. I have a good rapport with them. It makes me feel appreciated, what I do, and again it is one of the many things I will greatly miss when I leave.
There are a few injuries still healing at Arsenal. How are Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo doing?
Tomas has had surgery on his knee and we expect him to be flying by pre-season. Eduardo will be longer although hopefully he will be back doing training during pre-season. We are setting no timescales for Eduardo because we don’t want to put him under pressure but we are confident he will make a full recovery. We have had some real nasty injuries and I think that is part and parcel of the game. Look back at the years we have been successful and we have had luck with injuries and not picked up many nasty injuries. Hopefully that will be the case next season.
[ Tuesday, June 10, 2008][arsenal.com]