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Surfleet walking footballers endorse defibrillators after terrifying incident

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A relieved team of walking footballers hailed the men who saved a player’s life with a defibrillator – and say this weekend’s terrifying incident shows why all sports teams in our area need one.

Paul Murray (56) collapsed on the pitch on Sunday during a friendly between South Lincs Steelers and Wisbech Walking Town Walking Football Club.

Mr Murray – a Sutton Bridge resident who plays for Sunday’s home team Wisbech – went limp, stopped breathing and lost his pulse in a scene described as ‘pure horror’.

Paul Murray (far left) with teammates and manager Jonny Pearce (second left) after winning the Peterborough & District Walking Football League (50236510)
Paul Murray (far left) with teammates and manager Jonny Pearce (second left) after winning the Peterborough & District Walking Football League (50236510)

His team’s fastest runner – Steve Wyness – raced to fetch the club’s defibrillator and manager Jonny Pearce used the machine while another player, Steve Smith – who works in a hospital A&E department – administered First Aid.

The fast-thinking trio and life-saving kit did the job and Mr Murray, a teaching assistant, had regained consciousness by the time the ambulance arrived.

Jason Putterill, secretary of the Steelers – who play their home games in Surfleet’s Glen Park – was on the neighbouring pitch as part of simultaneous five-a-side fixture when Mr Murray collapsed.

Paul Murray pictured with the Peterborough & District Walking Football League trophy (50236507)
Paul Murray pictured with the Peterborough & District Walking Football League trophy (50236507)

He looked across in shock as Mr Murray was placed into the recovery position by his teammates as they shouted his name and failed to get a response.

Mr Putterill recalled: “He had gone limp and they started doing chest compressions – I turned around and said ‘my God, I think he’s dying’.”

He watched as the Wisbech players attended to Mr Murray and said time seemed to stand still before the player’s stomach began to move.

Mr Putterill said: “Honestly, at one point I thought he had gone.

“Your heart sinks, it was truly awful.

“It was pure horror looking on.”

He went over to the Wisbech first aiders and called them heroes for their actions. He added: “To me, if that defibrillator hadn’t been available I don’t think they would’ve saved his life.

“The ambulance got there really quickly and they might’ve saved him, who knows. But, for me, the important part was getting that defibrillator out of the clubhouse.

“My full admiration goes to the boys who didn’t panic – they just got on and helped him. There was no screaming, no people getting hysterical, they were sensible and played their part.

“Hats off to them.”

At time of press yesterday, it was thought that Mr Murray had suffered a seizure and would soon be able to leave hospital.

Mr Putterill said: “Luckily he’s going to be going home soon.

“That could’ve been so different, he could’ve never been going home again.

“What a relief for his family.”

The incident brought back memories of Danish footballer Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest on the pitch in this summer’s European Championships.

The Eriksen episode had already prompted Mr Putterill and the Steelers to check out the location of their nearest defibrillator, which is at Surfleet Village Hall.

However, Sunday’s shock will cause the club to look to install another one even closer to Glen Park – for all sports teams who use it.

Mr Putterill said: “It doesn’t matter what sort of sport you play or how old people are. I’m hoping people read what’s going on and understand the impact of having this equipment.”

The club will also look to boost its number of trained first aiders.

Wisbech Town FC secretary Spenny Larham said the club had been gifted the defib machine by an anonymous donor a few years ago. However, the Eriksen incident in June had spurred them to service it and put in new batteries.

He said: “We obviously hadn’t had any need for the machine during Covid, but after the Eriksen incident, we made sure it was in good condition and ready to use.”

Wisbech manager Jonny Pearce said: “It was really scary and the way the players reacted certainly saved Paul’s life.

“I cannot stress enough how important defib machines are and if your club hasn’t got one, then get the money together and buy one. You will never know when you’re going to need it.”

“Myself and everyone at the club would like to wish Paul a speedy and safe recovery.”

This incident will only add to the post-Eriksen push to encourage all sporting facilities to have defibrillators on hand.

Pinchbeck United manager Lewis Thorogood says he has had support from South Holland District Council about installing a defibrillator at the Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field in Spalding.

Spalding United have one – and Pinchbeck have one for their games at Knight Street – but Mr Thorogood thinks its important to have the equipment on hand at the Sir Halley for any sports teams using the town centre venue, including Pinchbeck.

He pointed to Sunday’s walking football incident as well as a case in Nottinghamshire on Sunday, in which a physio stepped in to attend to an assistant referee, as evidence of why the need for defibrillators is even more acute.

Mr Thorogood said: “Regrettably it seems to be coming more and more common and that’s why it’s important that everybody has the right help and support through these important devices.”

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