12 March 2019
Like many ex-professional footballers, Paul Parker can cite a long list of minor operations he’s had following sports injuries. With a career that includes winning the 1992 Premiership title with Manchester United (managed at the time by Alex Ferguson) and being part of the England Squad in the 1990 World Cup, coached by the legendary Bobby Robson, this ex-pro says he’s had a dozen surgical procedures to fix knee, shoulder and ankle problems. But his recent hip replacement at Spire Gatwick Park Hospital in Horley, Surrey, was “the big one” he says.
“I never thought my problems were to do with my hip, but probably because I didn’t want to find out,” says the 54-year-old.
It all started three years ago when Paul was living and working in Singapore, playing in celebrity matches at the elite Singapore Cricket Club with other former ex-Man Utd and ex-Liverpool pros (two of the biggest supported England teams in Asia).
“I started getting pain in the groin but thought it was just a football injury or I had been in the gym too much. It then spread to my back, then into my buttocks and down into my right foot causing my heel to hurt. You can get strong anti-inflammatories over the counter in Asia so I would take those if it was going to be a long day or I was walking a lot - and would take them round the clock if I was taking part in a celebrity football match.”
“When I was playing six-asides indoors I could get away with it, but when the games got bigger and running was imperative, I really struggled. In the end, I had to start managing rather than playing as even 10 minutes on the pitch was too much.”
By the time Paul returned to the UK with his family in May last year, he was walking with a limp because of the pain, even putting socks on was a huge challenge. The pain restricted his social life and affected his mental wellbeing.
“I didn’t want to go out and if I did, I made sure I was delivered straight to where I was going. My biggest worry was walking towards people who knew me as I didn’t want them to see me walk funny. If I saw someone I knew, I would stop still and get them to walk to me. I also tried to get in and out of cars without anyone seeing me.”
“I couldn’t wear my best shoes as I kept clipping the soles on the kerb and ruining them. It got to the stage when I was crossing a road I thought `if I get this wrong I could get run over’. I stopped going out as it was just too much. I was very down about it.”
When his son’s best friend had to stop his car in the middle of the road not far from the Parker home near Basildon, Essex, just to allow Paul time to cross over, the ex-pro realised he had to get help.
He went to see his former sports physiotherapist with the mindset that “this was a back problem”, only to discover that he had lost more than 5cms in muscle from his left leg – which should have been his strongest as he kicks with his right. The physio sent him for an MRI scan and within 24 hours Paul was told he had arthritis of his left hip.
“I thought I would need a treatment of exercises and injections to sort it out. It was difficult to get my head around the fact I would need a hip operation.”
His physiotherapist recommended Mr Khalid Drabu at Spire Gatwick Park because the orthopaedic consultant had operated on sportsmen and women.
“I didn’t want someone who just did hip operations, I wanted someone who did hip operations on sports people. That was important to me,” says Paul.
“I went to see Mr Drabu with my wife Nicky and after chatting with him, I felt 100% better. We were able to ask lots of questions. It made a real difference to how I felt, and it was definitely the right decision to travel all the way to Horley in Surrey for the operation.”
On November 15 last year, Paul had a left hip replacement and within three hours of the surgery, he was walking around his room on a frame. Following two nights in the hospital, he walked out to the hospital car park on two crutches.
Paul started training in his local gym within two weeks of his operation, with a coach guiding him on rehabilitation exercises. He also had to enlist the help of GaitSmart, which identify and correct gait abnormalities, to help him use his new hip properly as he was still throwing his pelvis forward when walking. He now trains in the gym early every morning and is back doing commentary on football at talkSPORT and BBC Radio London where he has discovered fellow hip patients.
“I am meeting up with people I have played football with or against and when I start chatting about my hip operation, I find out that they have experienced that too. And since the operation, I have met several people with hip problems and I tell them to get it sorted as soon as possible. If I had been living in the UK at the time, I would have done it sooner.”
Although Paul says his football playing days are over, he has started training for a charity bike ride to raise money to fight prostate cancer. In June, he will be part of the ex-pro Queens Park Rangers team cycling 145 miles to Amsterdam.
“I am now really enjoying what I am doing,” he says. “I can walk towards people and not be paranoid about walking funny. And I can now cross roads properly knowing I can jog out of the way if I need to.”