Exclusive interview: Finlay Barnham tells his story. 

Nottingham scrum-half Finlay Barnham made the decision to retire in January 2015, following a six-month spell on the side lines recovering from concussion – a decision that was taken with "deep regret" after consulting club doctor Abraze Khalique and two specialist neurologists. Finlay Barnham gave this exclusive interview to The Jeff Astle Foundation about his experiences.


TJAF: When did you first start playing rugby?

FB: Aged 4 when my dad took me down kicking and screaming to the local club, I was a footballer not a rugby player!  

TJAF: What do love most about the game?

FB: The friends you make (life long ones you couldn't replace).

TJAF: When did you first realise you could make the grade as a top flight sportsman?

FB: At the age of 16 when I played for England, that gave me the belief I could, even though there was still a long journey ahead. 

TJAF: Finlay, you made 83 appearances for Nottingham, what were your highlights?

FB: Captaining a young side in a cup run where we reached the British and Irish quarter finals, we shouldn't have got that far considering who we played. 

TJAF: How did you receive the blow that left you concussed ending your career?

FB: The final concussion was received in training in a non-contact touch game! A swinging elbow to the jaw (I was wearing a scrum-hat which also proves they don't stop concussion).  The concussion prior to that was a knee to the temple in a game away against Jersey. 

TJAF: Can you describe the effects of concussion?

FB: Pretty bleak for me, lots of things; tired, nausea, irritable, worry, depression, dizziness, night terrors, breaking down into tears for no reason (only happened once), blurred / coloured vision, struggled to walk without generating some of these symptoms. 

TJAF: What initial medical advice were you given to help your recovery from concussion?

FB: The standard protocol, no exercise until you achieve your baseline score, then you build back into exercise at a low intensity. 

“In my professional career I had 8 ‘recorded’ concussions. It could have been many more…”

TJAF: How many concussions do you think you had during your playing days?

FB: In my professional career I had 8 ‘recorded’ concussions. It could have been many more in training or in games but I may not have reported the symptoms as they weren’t severe enough (in my opinion). - pretty dumb thing to do! As a schoolboy I had 2 or 3.

TJAF: Did you ever cheat ' baseline ' testing. If so, why? If not, why?

FB: Never cheated it, it’s hard to I think. How can you cheat a balance test or memory test to achieve your baseline score? You surely can’t cheat these.  You either can balance and remember stuff or you can’t!

TJAF: Do you know of others who may have cheated baseline testing?

FB: No, most lads are so dumb that it’s difficult for them to get decent scores on the baseline test in the first instance! 

TJAF: Were you well looked after by medical teams?

FB: Yes. It’s not their fault people get concussed. It’s also not their fault if they can’t make you better, every person’s concussion injury is different and unique. It’s a tough job. I would like it on record that Dr Abraze Khalique was fantastic, a truly great bloke and Doctor. 

TJAF: Would you do things differently, i.e. managing your concussions?

FB: No, with the medical teams they were managed as well as they could have been. Just unfortunate my body had had enough! 

TJAF: What support did you get from the Rugby Players Association?

FB: Zero, I wasn’t a member. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! 

TJAF: What would your message be to youngsters playing the game about concussion?

FB: If you go into a game scared of concussion you will get more hurt. You have to throw yourself about to really enjoy rugby. If you are worried about being concussed simply don’t play the sport but I might add you can get hurt doing plenty of things in life so where does it stop. Everyone is turning soft in my opinion! 

TJAF: When did it become apparent that this might end your career in top flight sport and how difficult was it to take the decision to retire?

FB: When I was told to stop by 3 Doctors (neurologists) it became real. It wasn't a difficult decision as it was a serious health issue. But it was hard and crippling at the time as you realise you can't play again. I just tend not to think about it – there’s nothing that will change what’s happened. 

TJAF: What support did you receive from family and friends regarding your decision to retire?

FB: Full support, my best mate Joe Cobden helped me a lot, he had torn his ACL knee ligament twice so we were both down in the dumps together, I think we both helped pull each other through to be honest. He certainly did for me. 

TJAF: What advice would you give any fellow professionals faced with the same circumstances in the future?

FB: If you get a serious concussion take a long rest and get the recovery right, do not rush back because the long term affects and your susceptibility to concussion may increase if you rush your recovery. 

“I bumped my head on a boat and suffered for 6 weeks with concussion in 2015 - 9 months after retiring.”

TJAF: Two years on, are you suffering from any after effects of the concussion and are there any fears about your future health?

FB:  No after effects but I am very susceptible to being concussed, I bumped my head on a boat and suffered for 6 weeks with concussion in 2015 - 9 months after retiring. I also have bumped my head on a car boot and suffered the concussive symptoms a few weeks ago. I was assured by the Doctors that my future health will be fine. 

TJAF: Following your injury, do you continue to participate in any sports?

FB: Yes - sailing, I have since been to a National Championships in a certain class of boat where I came 6th. 

TJAF: How do you make your living now?

FB:  I co-founded a company called Fit HQ.  We make nutritious, tasty and convenient food to support those who lead or want to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle. From a standing start securing private equity investment to launch and trade. 

TJAF: Are there any lessons you learned from sport that you’ve taken into your new career?

FB:  How to communicate with people... I think! 

TJAF: What do you think about the work The Foundation is doing?

FB: We need bodies like The Jeff Astle Foundation spreading the word about concussion to improve everyone’s awareness of this horrible type of injury.  

TJAF: Finlay, thank you for being so frank and all the best for the future.