I qualified as a chartered physiotherapist in 1984 & my first ever role was to accompany a group of disabled athletes & their supporters to attend the ‘Les Autres’ games in New York. As part of a support team of six, I supported the physical, social & mental needs of the group. This had a profound effect on me as I was leading the care of two young men with muscular dystrophy who were terminally ill & would die within the next year. The in-depth conversations about life, it's quality & to live each day as your last remained with me & I hope in some small way I gave them some pleasure in what seems a very unfair world.
After returning from the USA, I took up my first full time role at Glasgow Royal Infirmary as a junior physiotherapist & was let loose on real patients with real issues. I still think one of my greatest achievements was to lead the process of rehabilitation of a 75 year old Ex Commando from WW2 who had lost both legs due to peripheral vascular disease & had a minor stroke back to be able to return home to care for his disabled wife. It took 9 months but the journey taught me so much about the importance of rehab been patient centred & patient specific goals. This taught me that outcomes & ownership of the rehabilitation process are key for rehab to have an optimal outcome.
I watched MDT truly care for patients & feel the GRI was so good in it's ‘learning culture’…much of it remains with me today. My career in high performance sport began in a part time basis, working with Jordanhill & Glasgow Academicals Rugby club as well as some sessional work for junior squads with the Scottish Football Association. I also worked at the 1986 Commonwealth Games, Edinburgh covering rowing.
I was given the chance in 1987 to work at the National Rehabilitation & Sports Injury Centre by the Football Association. This was a centre not only for long term injured professional footballers but Olympic athletes of many disciplines: rugby union & league players, jockeys, golfers, formula 1 drivers, international cricketers & tennis players. The great thing for me here was the fact I treated a maximum of 7-8 patients a week so I could fully focus on the ‘total needs’ for the long term athletes. Many of these were mental, social, as well as physical. I soon realised for optimum rehabilitation, treating the person was far more effective than just treating the injury. During this time at Lilleshall I was seconded to work at the Olympic games in Barcelona, did a pilot study for the jockey club via on course therapy for injured jockeys as well as spending three evenings per week and every Sunday morning being the lead physiotherapist for the England U17s football programme. I learned so much from the ‘School of Excellence’ in football run by the late Dave Sexton & Mike Kelly, both great mentors in football to me.
During my time at Lilleshall I regularly rehabilitated players from Rangers FC, Scotland & was given the task to rehab one young player with a terrible knee injury Ian Durrant. Ian eventually recovered after 3 operations & 30 months rehab! Again you learn so much on these journeys from the highs & lows, when Ian’s dad past away, about him missing the team picture again because of attending Lilleshall, the importance of process in long term rehab, the ability to be flexible in goal setting & celebrate small goals & outcomes in the long rehab process!
In 1994 Rangers were looking for a new head of physiotherapy & after a casual conversation with Dr Donald Cruikshank & a meeting with Walter Smith, we all felt we could work together to help the Club achieve it's main objective at that time, achieve & equal Celtic’s world record 9 championships in a row….Little did I realise how difficult this was going to be!!
History shows we did achieve this but failed on 10 by 2 points. The whole experience working with Walter, Donald & the players (Gough, Goram, McCoist & Gascoigne) taught me so much more. Men who could handle pressure & perform (many can’t), getting the best out of maverick personalities, finding ways to win when you really should not & what injuries you can play & perform with & which ones you can’t!!!!! Walter left & was replaced by an equally good man in Dick Advocaat & again I enjoyed my time under his direction & he brought in many top class players & people in A Numan, Ronald de Boer, Gio Van Bronkhurst, Stafen Kloss, to name a few. Success continued at a great football club. Once Alex McLeish arrived I knew my days were numbered & I started looking for new opportunities. Alex was happy enough to move me on & for this I'm truly grateful. It taught me so much about myself & the realisation that none of us are that important! Strangely enough, 3 years later, I was offered the opportunity to go back. Probably the most difficult decision of my life was to say no but wondered if the great times I had could ever be repeated.
I started at Middlesbrough in July 2003. This was another great learning opportunity from winning trophies, a European final & relegation!! You learn so much from them all. Initially I was employed as head of sports medicine for Middlesbrough Football Club but with relegation and the inevitable staff cut backs, was put in charge of sport science too. Middlesbrough was a much smaller club in statue to Rangers but there were many good people on & off the pitch & these were happy times for me. I had a great working relationship with Ugo Ehiogh, Gareth Southgate, George Boateng & Stuart Downing. Great people as well as players of a high calibre. We had some great chats in the treatment area, rarely about football but life in general. I continued to speak with Ugo & Gareth long after we all left Middlesbrough & it was such a sad day when Ugo passed away as he was a person in my life that I could share some of the more difficult things that have occurred to me that I could rarely express to anyone else. I still find it difficult to think he is not with us but I am comforted by the fact that I know he had such a positive affect on my life and many others, no one can ask for a better legacy than that.
I learned so much through relegation & the inevitable cut backs. Eventually it was time for Boro to cut back on me as I wasn’t prepared to take a 50% pay cut to do my old job. This was part of a cost saving exercise.
When I left Boro I had no major plans as having had 25 years in professional football I wanted to reflect on the one question in my head, ”What will get me up in the morning & excite me?” I didn’t know the answer but agreed to apply for a job at MCFC Academy as head of sports medicine. After 3 interviews & many questions from both sides I accepted their offer of a fantastic project & in September 2011 started work on rebuilding their Academy, it's mission, philosophy & brand. In 2013 I was appointed head of performance for the boys programme 6-23 & assisted whenever I could with the emerging women’s programme. When I started at MCFC I had 4 reports & when I left in June 2018 I had 27!! A great club, a great group of people & the memories & people I will always cherish.
2013 was a very special year as I was honoured in the New Years Honours list with an OBE for my services to physiotherapy in sport & working with young people.
After 31 years in full time elite sport I thought it time to re-evaluate where I am on my journey and what services I could provide that still got me up in the morning!
In June 2018 I formed my own company, Grant Downie Limited, and now offer consultant services to medical & performance teams.
So I am now a consultant in medical & performance services. I audit & review what is potential best practice, how medical & performance best function, develop leaders, deal with conflict & develop key communication skills to key stakeholders in matters like injury management.
In my first year I have consulted for the City Football Group, The Premier League & The Scottish Football Association. I have consulted/talked in Australia, Japan, China, South Korea, Barbados, The UAE, Spain as well as the UK. I have mentored 6 leading High-Performance practitioners in elite sport. I love this new part of my life, helping others to achieve their dreams & lead a happier life.
I moved to the Isle of Arran in August 2019 where I am still happiest finding golf balls in the burn, watching nature, taking pictures and playing golf…What happens then I don’t know or worry. I am now very comfortable in life not knowing and find this exciting. COVID-19 is a terrible thing for the world and many people, so work will be different for me and many people. I hope to continue some of my consultative role, but I do not want my life just being defined by what I did in elite sport. It all started with me working in hospitals with people who did “real” jobs and had real worries about life. For this very reason, I will later in this year train as a voluntary Community First Responder as the valley where I live is 30 minutes plus away from a blue light ambulance. So, with the next part of my journey I go with an open mind to see how I can help people in any walk of life, and I will try and pass on my 5 key life lessons learned so far: