Blyth Spartans defender Gavin Caines has called for more defibrillators and medical equipment to be made available in all levels of football – after the tragic news of his former teammate Daniel Wilkinson’s death from a heart attack during a game.
The 26-year-old former Hull City defender – who played alongside Spartans’ summer signing at Rushall Olympic last season – collapsed on the field an hour into Shaw Lane AFC’s Integro Doodson Sports Cup tie with Brighouse Town. Despite receiving treatment from both clubs – as well as from Brighouse’s defibrillator – Wilkinson died of an underlying heart condition, Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC).
AVRC also caused then-Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba to retire from football in 2012 and, with incidents such as these becoming more frequent, Caines has called on more defibrillators and medical equipment to be made accessible to football clubs at all levels to get instant treatment when needed.
When asked if he thought more could be done to avoid another tragedy like last Monday’s, Caines replied: “Yeah, definitely. When I was doing my coaching badges, we did a lot of first aid – as it makes sure that you know what you have to do should you ever need to do it.
“From then, when I heard about some of the things that happen – even at youth level – I do think there needs to be a lot more defibrillators and other medical equipment around the grounds for those instances.
“It doesn’t matter what level you play at – be it Premier League or Sunday league – everyone’s life matters. So, the more defibrillators we can get and the more medical equipment available around the grounds for use when it’s needed, the better really.
“It is something they need to be looking at and it’s something they need to get sorted.”
Caines revealed that it was through his former Rushall teammates that he knew something was wrong on the night, but he was left “in total shock” when he was told of his Wilkinson’s death on Tuesday morning.
The 32-year-old admitted: “It came as a massive shock, it really did. He’s a young lad, only 26, and he’s just finished university.
“The first I’d heard of something happening was on the night time, when a couple of the old Rushall lads – we all have a group chat thing – said that he’d collapsed during the game. Obviously, a few of the lads had then messaged to say that they hoped he was alright.
“Waking up the next day, I’d not even heard anything until my best mate – who also played for Rushall – phoned me at 10am to let me know the news. I just remember being in total shock.
“It’s one of them that you don’t know what to say at the time I just feel so sorry for his family and his close friends – as it’s just devastating news for such a young lad.”
With the pair turning out for Evo-Stik Premier League side Rushall last season, Caines got to know Wilkinson very well and the Mansfield-born centre-back had nothing but praise for his fellow defender.
Caines added: “Dan was a genuinely good guy. You hear that quite a lot of times, but he was one of those lads who really was a nice lad and he didn’t have a bad word to say about anybody.
“You could go to everyone who he’s ever played with and all of his ex-team members and I reckon they’d all say the same thing. I’ve not got a bad word to say about him either and it’s just utterly devastating.
“For something like that to happen to someone so young and it be totally unexpected, it’s heartbreaking. I’m devastated personally, but I can’t begin to think how his family must be feeling.
“It’s just really really sad.”
Despite hearing the news on Tuesday morning, Caines was still in the starting line-up for Blyth’s 1-0 win over Marine – a game in which there was a minute’s silence before the game for the recently deceased Shaw Lane player.
Even though the news was still fresh in his mind, Caines admits that he struggled to get his head around the “madness” of it all, but knew that he still had a job to do for Spartans.
Caines explained: “I tried to not let it affect my preparations – as I still had to go out and play. It probably hit me more during the daytime, when I was thinking about it and talking to my old mates who all knew him as well.
“When it came to the game, I had to try and put it to the back of my mind. You can’t with something like that, but you just have to get on with it as best you can.
“It was very tough, but I just had to go out, play my game and do what I needed to. I knew him quite well, I spent a lot of time with him – as I’d played with him and trained with him as well.
“It was only a couple of months ago that we were all on a team night out, enjoying ourselves and having a good laugh. When you look at it in that sense, it’s just madness.”
A JustGiving page has already been set up for The Daniel Wilkinson Foundation, which has been created to raise money and awareness of the inherited heart condition ARVC. They have set themselves a target of £50,000 and have already raised £3,500 within a week.
In a statement on the donation website, the foundation said: “The Daniel Wilkinson Foundation has been set up to raise funds that will ultimately, save lives.
“By donating to this foundation, and with the support of the FA and county FAs, every penny raised will go towards providing screenings for all footballers at grassroots level. [It will also] assist clubs in purchasing defibrillators and provide training in CPR.
“We must ensure that Daniel’s death is not in vain and that no more young footballers lose their lives.”