Former Ely City midfielder Sam Goodge opens up on his battle with post concussion syndrome
When Sam Goodge suffered a clash of heads during Ely City’s derby fixture under the lights at Mildenhall Town in September 2019, he could never have possibly envisaged the extent of what was to come.
The midfielder carried on and completed the game, was cleared of any serious damage at his nearest A&E 48 hours later and for a while afterwards went about his every day life with minimal fuss.
However, things soon started to take an alarming turn. His balance became impaired, there were frequent, painful headaches and the fatigue was debilitating.
He was confined to his bed, unable to work or carry out the most simple of tasks. Somewhat inevitably, anxiety attacks and depression started to take hold and the former Ely College pupil felt isolated, confused and, above all, scared about what exactly was happening to his body.
He eventually headed back to hospital, where, after a long and drawn out process, he was diagnosed with post concussion syndrome (PCS). It was a relief in a way to finally have an answer, a reason as to why his life had been put on hold. Yet, it quickly became clear that this is a poorly understood condition – one that can take years to recover from.
“It was a relatively usual clash of heads that you get in football,” said Goodge. “I felt ok to continue, kept playing and was fine for a while afterwards.
“But then my balance was terrible, it started to feel like I was walking on a trampoline. My limbs felt like dead weights and I ended up bed bound for about three weeks.
“I’d never had anxiety attacks before but they really started to get to me and I now know that what I was slipping into was depression. I didn’t really know the signs, we as men don’t really speak about that sort of thing, do we?
“I was afraid to walk down the stairs, I just felt trapped in my bedroom. I was confused, very vulnerable and just didn’t know where to turn.
“I eventually got the diagnosis but this is an invisible condition. You can’t see it, it’s not a mental health problem, although it can easily cause one.
“You’re sort of between medical departments and there is no major help out there for a lot of people; you suffer in silence.
"I was told a referral to neurotrauma had been made and at the time this was all I had to hold on to. I chased the referral up and was continuously told it had been made but it hadn't.
"I found out in the end that there was a dispute between the hospital and the GP over who should pay for the referral and that it's standard procedure for PCS patients not to be referred on to neurological departments."
Fortunately for Goodge, he has had the Oliver Zangwill Centre for Neuropsychological Rehabilitation on his doorstep in Ely, as well as support from Headway Cambridgeshire – a charity that helps those who have suffered brain injuries.
Their work has allowed Goodge to come to terms with his illness, although there remain challenges to face on a daily basis.
Taking to Twitter last week to try to raise some awareness of PCS, he revealed he was currently suffering with sleep and digestive issues, as well as the now all-too-familiar mental battle.
It’s still tough, but with the help of the aforementioned organisations, Goodge can at least see some light at the end of what has been a harrowingly dark tunnel.
“This has been life changing, no doubt about that,” added Goodge, who also suffered a concussion while playing for Ely Tigers Rugby Club as a teenager that may have potentially played a part in developing PCS.
“I needed to come to terms with that because I spent months trying to chase a recovery, doing anything I could to feel better.
“I felt embarrassed in a way. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, see anyone – lockdown helped with that, but I needed to accept myself for the way I was now.
“I’d become really unhappy with who I was. I’d lost my football, I love travelling and couldn’t do it and then there was Covid. Everything was consuming me.
“Therapy has started the recovery process and it’s been really good for me. Headway have also been fantastic and so has Oliver Zangwill.
"I've seen online how people all around the world are struggling to find advice and support with PCS, they're desperate.
"I know I’m lucky to have them close by and they’ve given me some great advice – I’ve learned a lot.
“It’s a long process and I have to take things one day at a time. I have an idea of where I want to get to, but I need to be patient.”
Sadly, football will not form part of Goodge’s future. At the age of 28, he has been advised by specialists to hang up his boots – the risk of another head injury is too severe.
That’s an obvious blow, but having been part of a close-knit Ely side that made club history in the FA Vase and won back-to-back Cambridgeshire Invitation Cups under the guidance of Brady Stone and Martin Grey, he can look back on his playing days with great fondness.
“I’ve been told not to go back. I loved playing football – especially for Ely – but after what I’ve gone through I’m happy to not play again,” he said.
“It probably hasn’t fully sunk in that I won’t kick a ball again but it just means I’ll have to pull out the golf clubs more regularly!
“Ely is a club close to my heart. I loved it under Brady and it was a great bunch of lads. The Vase run and those cup wins were amazing.
“I’d started to become a different person when things got worse but some of the people at the club have really helped me to start to turn things around.”
The Robins’ committee have also informed Goodge that they intend to make Headway their nominated charity for next season.