Sunday league footballer 'went for a header' and ended up waking up in Leeds General Infirmary

A Sunday league footballer has told how he "went for a header" and ended up waking up in the Leeds General Infirmary.

By Rebecca Marano
Friday, 25th February 2022, 4:45 am

Jon James, 36 was playing for York-based Huntington Rovers against local rivals Wigginton Grasshoppers when the freak accident occurred on January 30.

As he went up to challenge for a ball, the veteran striker banged heads with an opposition defender, leaving him with a fractured skull and eye socket.

Jon said he has no memory of the incident itself, but later woke up in hospital in “excruciating pain”.

A Sunday league footballer has praised an opposition player who helped save his life after a clash of heads left him with a severely fractured skull. The ambulance at the site of the accident, Wiggington Sports Club, York.

He said: “I went for a header and then the next thing I knew I was waking up in Leeds General Infirmary with about five doctors and nurses around me.

“It was an excruciating pain, and I didn’t really know my whereabouts, and then the next day, I had the surgery.

“They cut from one ear all the way over the top of my head to the other ear, and then put two mental plates onto my skull, and then re-attached all the bones.”

Wigginton Grasshoppers goalkeeper Russ Howarth, 39, an advanced care practitioner from York, who has worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, rushed to treat Jon in the minutes following the incident.

Jon James, 36, (L) with Russ Howarth, 39, (R) who saved his life.

And later, when two medevac helicopters arrived to whisk Jon away to hospital, Russ ensured the teams were kept updated and even helped prepare him for the journey.

Jon, from York, underwent a life-saving operation the next day where doctors inserted a metal plate into his skull, and he has thankfully since left hospital.

He says he was “lucky” that Russ was there to play a crucial role in his emergency treatment.

The dad-of-one added: “I know it was a very unlucky accident, but I feel extremely lucky that Russ was there.

Jon James in Leeds General Infirmary.

“There’s nothing I will ever say or do that will repay how grateful myself and family are to him. I owe him the sincerest thank you.”

Jon, who was Huntington Rover’s longest-serving player, said he knew he would never play football again after seeing himself for the first time following his operation.

He said: “There were no mirrors on the wall, so someone had to take a picture to show me what I looked like.

“Obviously, there’s a big cut in my head, staples, two black eyes – it just looked like a different person looking back at me.

“I pretty much knew I wouldn’t play football again.”

Jon has suffered sight issues following the accident and is unable to work or do exercise for fear of disturbing the braces holding his skull together.

But despite these new challenges, he said he was extremely thankful to Russ and the other medical teams that helped save his life.

He added: “I feel very humbled and very grateful to still be alive.

“It’s going to be a long process to recovery – the surgeon said it was a 12-month process to recovery – so it's going day by day now.”

Russ, who has previously played professionally for Tranmere Rovers, said the derby game on January 30 against his local rivals was shaping up to be a “title decider”.

But ten minutes into the match, the collision between the two players put an immediate stop to the over-35s Sunday league match.

Russ said: “I was probably around 25 yards away from the incident.

“It was just a ball that bounced up, and they both went up for it, and then I remember hearing that noise of a head-on-head loud sort of crack.

“My initial impression was to shout at the referee and stop the match.”

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Russ said he thought Jon might have “a little bump on the head”, but after he remained down for a minute or so, he investigated further.

And when he looked closely, he noticed a depression in Jon's forehead, which suggested a fractured skull.

Russ - who has worked with The Halo Trust landmine charity in Afghanistan and treated soldiers fighting ISIS in Iraq - then administered emergency care.

He added: “I took control of Jon’s neck because he wasn’t protecting his own airway, and that’s potentially an immediate risk to somebody’s life.

“Then it was just a matter of taking control of the scene making sure we got Jon wrapped up in a foil blanket as he was at risk of hyperthermia.

Russ spoke to ambulance teams, who then arranged for two successive helicopters to land on the football pitch – one carrying a doctor – as Jon’s health deteriorated.

He said: “The ambulance land crew came first, then they said that the helicopter is coming as well.

“When the helicopter landed, I helped the crew to get Jon ready for the flight.

“I’m just happy that I was able to help Jon at the time that he needed me.”

Jon’s friends are holding a sponsored run to help him cover the cost of living while he is off work.

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