The loss of ISF’s medical director, Dr Richard Johnson, who died yesterday, aged 56, will be a shock to the many friends in Socca who knew and trusted him.
Richard, as everyone called him, was a senior consultant surgeon at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, Wales.
Ironically, it was cancer that finally beat him, a disease which, as an oncologist, he had successfully treated and cured so many people who had come to see him, often with breast cancer, for which he was the hospital’s specialist.
Richard had, for many years, worked for Welsh rugby as their Medical Director, and went to Croatia in 2015 for the European six aside football Championships as part of the UK’s representation.
It was in Croatia that the small-sided football community quickly realised that here was a medical man of authority, knowledge and compassion which they could trust, and soon teams of all nationalities were going to Richard for a variety of ailments.
Although technically only the UK’s Doctor, it was typical of Richard that he welcomed everybody, gave sound advice, or usually had something in his medical bag that would solve the problem.
More often than not however, it was just the reassuring and compassionate manner in which he dealt with everybody that quickly made him an indispensable part of the ISF team.
As soon as you were in his presence, you just knew that here was a man who really knew his stuff, and made you walk away feeling ten times better just by hearing him talk, regardless of any medicines you might need.
When, on the last day in Croatia, a local man broke his leg in a bar, it was Richard who was first on the scene, walking towards the injured man, whilst everyone else, in shock, was moving away. There was no side to Richard. No fuss. Nothing extravagant. He just always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
At the ISF’s first World Cup in Lisbon in 2018, when the intense heat started affecting officials and players alike, Richard calmly walked around administering sound advice, water and glucose supplements in equal measure.
Nothing was too much trouble for him. By the time of the World Cup in Crete in October 2019, everybody knew him as the ISF’s Medical Director, and he was called on by almost every team, and asked countless questions every day, and dealt with every problem as though it was his first query of the week. He had that quality, which so few of us possess, of making you feel immediately at ease.
And he was good to be around too. An easy nature and ready smile, his laid-back personality made him immediately popular with everybody in the ISF team, and the warmth of his personality, his friendship and his integrity, leave a huge loss in the international football small-sided community.
For over a year Richard valiantly fought the cancer which yesterday took his life. Not once did he complain, and he sought neither pity nor sympathy. He smiled right to the end, worrying about his family, trying to keep their spirits up in a cause that, despite debilitating treatments, he knew deep down were proving fruitless.
His courage over the last few months was remarkable and was a measure of the man everyone knew him to be. Even when he knew the end was near last week, frail and weak and wearing an oxygen mask in bed, he joked that “I don’t think I’ll be going to Hungary then!”
A wonderful father, husband and friend to so many, who has, quite simply, left us far too soon.
Dr Richard Johnson, ISF medical director, senior consultant surgeon at the Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, died aged 56, September 16, 2022.