The Comeback: Simon Mantell

140609 ENG BEL 03 Photo by Ady Kerry

East Grinstead vs. Reading on 4 October was, to most people, just an ordinary match in the Men’s Premier Division. For Reading’s Simon Mantell, however it was a hugely significant moment and the culmination of 362 days of patience, frustration, hard work and pain.

For those who don’t know, just under a year ago Mantell suffered a concussion whilst playing for Reading. Whilst at the time he thought very little of it, the injury ended up keeping him out for almost a year:

“I was carrying the ball and the defender’s shoulder caught my chin; the whiplash impact caused the trauma and gave me a concussion. At the time I went down but I played on and showed no real symptoms and was fine. I didn’t think about it until later on when I drove home I had some blurred vision on the right hand side of my field of vision.” he adds “The headaches started from there. It was only mild and I woke up the next day and got ready for training as normal. I was expecting the headache to disappear but the medical staff said I couldn’t train as long as I had the headache and we would have to reassess the next day.”

Mantell admits it wasn’t something he was too concerned with initially. Knocks, bumps, scrapes and bruises are, after all, an occupational hazard for a top level athlete. However, after a short time, it became apparent that this was not going away any time soon.

“The headache didn’t change a huge amount. At that stage I kept thinking it’d be gone the next day, but it went on and on and a few months later I tried the return to play protocol. I did the cycling ok, did the running ok but the symptoms came back again and it didn’t change much right up until March this year.”

Simon Mantell shakes hands with Robert van der Horst

Mantell was forced to stop his office work as well as doing very little of his regular training routine whilst he was still showing symptoms of concussion. For an athlete used to being active and doing things all the time it was an incredibly tough time:

“I was meant to have as little cognitive stimulation as possible. The big thing about this compared with other injuries was how little you can do. When you injure your foot or knee you can do other things. You can spend time with your friends, go and have a drink etc. With this, I wanted to do things, but because I had this constant headache and fuzziness, I didn’t necessarily want to be doing things involving concentration. I had to reduce that right down. It was a case of doing only the necessary and sleeping a lot. I felt like I really needed a lot of sleep or I felt even worse. It was one of the indicators I was improving was when I needed less sleep.”

Concussion is seemingly a hot topic in modern sport with great strides being made in the care of athletes in recent years it is a far cry from the “patch ‘em up and carry on” attitude of the past. Mantell was quick to praise the level of care he received from the medical staff associated with England Hockey as well the specialists he spent time working with:

“It was incredibly important for me that the medical support was as fantastic as it was. The medical team here and the specialists they used outside were amazing. I’ve seen a neurosurgeon in Birmingham because the injury is still a bit niche. There isn’t the information out there that there is for other things. It was quite important to access expert help. They monitored me day to day and although I’ve been around the team every day, doing everything I could to stay fit, I was always supported and cared for allowing me to get back to playing eventually.”

“What I’ve learnt is that there is no set format for how long concussion will last. Sometimes it can be innocuous and not look that serious but can last longer than say a rugby player being knocked out. They might be symptom free in no time. People are starting to understand more about the nature of these injuries and now we understand the danger of competing whilst you still have symptoms. Not only are you more susceptible to further injury but also you are affected in terms of cognitive ability and spatial awareness.”

Simon Mantell in action vs Southgate

Despite the frustrations of being sidelined for almost a year, Mantell remained upbeat and in his characteristic way, he finds the positives from a difficult situation:

“It’s made me realise how much I love playing, competing and feeling fit. It puts things in perspective and makes you remember why you put your body through the pain you do. Watching your teammates playing in the competitions makes you want to be back out there. It drove me on to get back to competing and i’m delighted to have been able to come back.”

And come back he has. A return to the Reading squad has already brought his name back onto the score sheet, lashing one home against Holcombe, whilst he also featured in the test series for Great Britain against Argentina last week. Whilst he had never set any solid targets, now he’s back in the frame, fitness and selection for international tournaments are firmly on his mind:

“It’s very different running in the gym compared to playing in a game, so it’ll be hard but hopefully it won’t take me long to get to back to hockey fitness. I’ll take it as it comes. Now I’m back I want to be selected for tournaments, but we’ll have to see how it goes from here on in.”

Whatever the near future holds, after 362 days of pain, it’s great to see him back on the field.