'The game-changer? An ice machine!' - Physio reflects on 40-year career

Former NCFC physio, Tim Sheppard, with memorabilia from the NCFC UEFA cup run, 20 years ago: a guest

Former Norwich City physio, Tim Sheppard. - Credit: copyright: Archant 2013

For more than 20 years he was the go-to man for Norwich City players as they nursed the knocks, bruises and serious injuries of the professional game.

And for the last two decades, he has continued to support people through the aches and pains of physical activity - and the gruelling comebacks from serious injury.

But this week, former Norwich City physio Tim Sheppard will begin a well-deserved retirement when he steps down from private practice to enjoy some overdue family time.


Tim Sheppard treats Craig Fleming during a Norwich City game - Credit: Archant

The 70-year-old, who still lives in Norwich, has reflected on a career that spanned more than 40 years and, ironically, began with a sporting injury of his own.

Sheppard, who grew up in Bolton, suffered a knee injury when he was hoping to mount a sporting career of his own and when receiving treatment became fascinated with the workings of the human body.

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It was at this point he decided a career in physiotherapy was his calling and went on to join the staff at Carrow Road in 1980. 

It is a career that has seen wholesale changes in the footballing back room, from growing statistical analysis to more and more specialist roles.

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But for the ex-City physio, the biggest game-changer in his time was, of all things, an ice machine.

Neil Adams is helped off at Swansea by then City physio Tim Sheppard, right, after breaking his coll

Neil Adams is helped off at Swansea by then City physio Tim Sheppard, right, after breaking his collarbone at Swansea Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

He said: "When I first started we didn't have an ice machine so I would come in the night before and fill a Tupperware with water and freeze it. I'd then be in first thing the next day breaking away at it with a hammer then put it all into bags.

"It was a godsend when the Bermudan supporters' group got in touch and told us they had raised £1,000 for the club. We obviously couldn't buy a striker with that, so we went for an ice machine instead and it changed everything!"

During his 21 years at Carrow Road, Sheppard assisted in the treatment of scores of players, from minor knocks to serious, career-threatening injuries and he admits having to dish out the bleakest news to players can take its toll.

He said: "Footballers can often be quite stubborn so sometimes I would have to do fitness tests through gritted teeth on a Friday to almost prove to players they aren't fit. I could usually tell immediately they couldn't play, but until they could see the results in front of them it was hard to make them believe you.

"And then once you've given them the news they would be morose for the rest of the weekend - they'd come into the dressing room like a bear with a sore head - but all they want to do is play football so it's hard on them and it's hard having to tell them too.

Bryan Gunn's serious injury was treated by Tim Sheppard at the County Ground during a defeat to Nott

Bryan Gunn's serious injury was treated by Tim Sheppard at the County Ground during a defeat to Nottingham Forest in December 1994 Picture: Archant library - Credit: Archant

"It is a dreadful situation when players are in their prime and you have to tell them they basically don't have a career any more."

Sheppard saw so much change over his career, as the football backroom evolved to include more and more new roles.

He said: "If I were to design the ideal backroom, I would have two physios working together at a club - somebody younger, maybe around 30 to take on the physical side of things and somebody slightly older, around 55 to impart wisdom and work together.

"You do need a lot of energy to do the job, I remember one season my wife pointed out to me in July that I had been in literally every day of the week since the start of the season, so it does take it out of you.

"When I first started there was the manager, the coach and me and we would do everything - from booking the hotels and travel to even the dirty laundry. The transformation now is unbelievable.

"The professionalism has really taken over the sport, to the point it is almost too much when it is still just 22 people chasing a blown up bag of wind around a pitch.

"But a lot has changed for the better too - I still think back to players having a steak dinner at 12pm before playing three hours later, but I did try to gradually chip away at that."

Tim Sheppard tapes up Gary Lineker's leg, who had come to Carrow Road for John O'Neill's testimonial

Tim Sheppard tapes up Gary Lineker's leg, who had come to Carrow Road for John O'Neill's testimonial - Credit: Courtesy of Tim Sheppard

And another observation he has made is how pitches have evolved - from the boggy swamps of the 1980s to carpet-like forms now. 

He said: "There was a point where by the end of the season pictures were just brown swamps, but now the quality of the pitches are so much better - I'm fascinated by what goes into creating them.

"But at the same time, I wonder whether certain types of football boots aren't quite so well adapted to these surfaces, which I think may be why you see a lot more cruciate ligament injuries."

From being able to have a pitchside view of the club winning at Wembley in 1985 to learning about different techniques while on the UEFA Cup run, few have seen more in one spell at the club than Sheppard.


Tim Sheppard's testimonial against Celtic at Carrow Road - Credit: Simon Finlay

But he is now looking forward to spending his retirement with his "special spouse" Angela, his three daughters Laura, 36, Hannah 35 and Francesca, 30 and his two grandchildren, with the third and fourth due in July.

He said: "I'm looking forward to walking in the Lake District, playing more cricket and golf and enjoying family time. I turned 70 in October so I would like a few years where I'm still in a good condition to myself."

On Wednesday he welcomes his final patient, which will see his career ended just as it started - treating Mark Barham, a former footballer who arrived at the Canaries the very same year as him.

He said: "He was a terrific player and I knew he had an appointment coming up, so I shifted a few things around so I could come full circle.

"I thought it was only right that he would be my last job."

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