After Arsenal and England, West Ham’s Gary Lewin has finally come home
PUBLISHED: 19:00 06 September 2017
The new head of medical services for the Hammers has plenty of connections with West Ham
It was a moment that will probably live with him for the rest of his days.
He has probably been asked about a hundred times since that fateful day back in 2014, but he has happy to talk me through it when I met up for a chat last week.
England had just scored the equaliser against Italy through Daniel Sturridge and the bench jumped up to celebrate.
West Ham’s new head of medical services Gary Lewin takes up the story.
“We were going mad on the bench to celebrate and I have thought drinks for the players and I have stuck my left leg out to get them and it has slipped on the Astroturf and wedged between the Astroturf and the side of the pitch,” he explained.
“So my body went forwards and my foot went sideways and I looked down and my foot was at 90 degrees.
“The doc was brilliant. He reduced it straight away, popped it back in, but you have that horrible feeling that all your life you have been looking after players and now you are on a stretcher.
“It was a horrible feeling. Six months of hard work goes into preparation for a World Cup and it is ruined in a split second.”
It was more serious than that for Lewin. Scans showed he had four fractures, ruptured two sets of ligaments and partially ruptured the other.
He has surgery and seven screws and wires put into his ankle and to make matters worse the defeated team returned from Brazil just nine days later.
After an illustrious career at Arsenal and England you would think that West Ham’s new head of medical services, has nothing to do with his new club – but that is where you would be wrong.
The 53-year-old strolled into the room for our chat at Rush Green with a confident air, he already seems fully at home in his new surroundings.
“I was born in Stevenage Road in East Ham and was there until I was nine,” he revealed. “I can’t remember the junior school I went to, it was round the back of the railway station.
“We moved to Southend and then to Collier Row and I ended up living in Harold Wood. When I first got married we moved to London, but I ended up living in Harold Wood, so I have been in the area pretty much all my life,” explained Lewin.
That is not the only connection though.
“I played for West Ham Schoolboys as a goalkeeper and Arsenal as well. In those days you couldn’t sign for anyone until you were 14, so I played for the Hammers, Arsenal and Fulham.”
Given a choice, Lewin decided to join the Gunners.
“All my family are West Ham fans,” he said with a smile. “My dad is one of 11 who all lived in East Ham and Plaistow and a few of my uncles were West Ham season ticket holders, so I must have rebelled as a kid, because there was so many Hammers in our family.”
Lewin eventually signed as a pro, but was released by Arsenal in 1982 at the age of 18.
“I played for Dagenham & Redbridge under Ted Hardy in pre-season where I was on trial and then Barnet came in and offered me a semi-pro contract whereas Dagenham just wanted to keep me on trial.
“So I went to Barnet under Barry Fry and played for them for a season, while I did my A levels.”
The crucial moment in Gary’s career came purely by chance.
“I thought about joining the police force, though my strongest urge was to become a PE teacher, but then Fred Street who was the Arsenal and England physio at the time said ‘why don’t you go into physiotherapy?’
“He arranged for me to meet someone at Guys Hospital and I really liked it. I had to retake my A levels first which was probably the worst part of it, which I did at Redden Court School in Harold Wood.
“Then Fred retired, Roy Johnson took over and he didn’t want a full-time assistant, so he took me on while I was still training.
“I qualified in 1986 and then George Graham took over at Arsenal and invited me to become his physio and the rest is history.”
It is. He spent 22 years at Arsenal, while he was part-time England physio under Glenn Hoddle and took on the job full time when Fabio Capello took over, meaning he had to leave Arsenal.
His England career ended abruptly and in an unsavoury manner.
“It was hard because I was made redundant,” he explained. “What was even harder was that it was ring fenced from October 2015 until after the Euros, so me and the doctor had to work those last few months knowing that whatever happened we were sacked.”
Lewin’s England career finished on that terrible night against Iceland, but despite that, he has fond memories.
“I had loved every minute and that is why I was so desperate to come back into football, because basically it is my life.”
Lewin spent some time doing private work and setting up his own clinic, while he also helped out Arsenal ladies, but when the call came from West Ham, there was no hesitation.
“I got the call on the Monday to ask if I was interested, I met Slaven on the Tuesday and spoke to him for two or three hours. Then I spoke to the club on the Wednesday and it was all sorted on the Thursday.”
If only player transfers were that easy. So how have things been since Lewin took over?
“I was fortunate in a way because when I started there were no players here, so I could come into the club and into the training ground and assess everything.
“We did inherit a lot of injuries from last season, we had nine players injured, though Dom Brogan, Fraser Young and Eamon Swift did some great work with the rehab.”
So who has the final decision when a player is on the verge of returning from injury?
“A lot of people think these decisions are black and white, but they are not,” he said. “You have the manager’s view, the medical point of view and most important, the player’s point of view.
“The manager has to weigh up what games are coming up and medically we have to assess what risk there is in him breaking down. It has to be a consenus among all of us.”
Next Monday will see Lewin in action for the first time at the London Stadium and he can’t wait.
“I am really looking forward to it,” he said. “I have been over there many times to watch games and I know at times it has been difficult.
“But I was there for the Tottenham game – what an atmosphere. That was like a cup final and that is what we have to create this season.”
West Ham have been beset by injuries in recent times, but perhaps with Lewin at the helm things can be different.
And hopefully it won’t be him being stretchered off either.