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UK Coaching Team
Safety and Welfare Self-care and development

Brentford Football Club Get Onside with UK Coaching’s Sudden Cardiac Arrest Campaign

UK Coaching teamed up with Joe Humphries Memorial Trust and Brentford Football Club to highlight the importance of coaches, clubs and organisations undergoing life-saving sudden cardiac arrest training. UK Coaching’s Blake Richardson visited the club on the day 60 coaches, managers and office-based staff from Brentford FC Community Sports Trust underwent training

As estate agents never tire of telling us: the three most important factors when searching for a new home are location, location, location.

It has become a cliché, but home seekers buy into it for good reason, as a property that sits in just the right spot – a good neighbourhood, good schools, good transportation links and close to local amenities and green space – can hold the key to living a happy life.

Location, location, location is a mantra that sports clubs and leisure facilities should also commit to memory when choosing where to house their defibrillator. Because its location can hold the key to life itself.

Marijke van Eerd is a paediatric emergency sister who works in the Queen’s Medical Centre emergency department at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH).

She is also a volunteer for heart charity Joe Humphries Memorial Trust (JHMT) and, with three other JHMT volunteers, led sudden cardiac arrest training for Brentford Football Club Community Sports Trust staff – including their full cohort of community coaches.

The practical face-to-face workshops were organised in partnership with UK Coaching to complement the free Sudden Cardiac Arrest online course and Digital Toolkit we have created as part of our campaign to ‘Be Quick. Be Smart. Restart a Heart’.

Staff were shown how to deliver cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use a defibrillator, before getting hands-on with practice dummies in four interactive group sessions.

The project has a particular resonance for Brentford, who signed cardiac arrest survivor Christian Eriksen seven months after his collapse playing for Denmark against Finland in the European Championships – while their Technical Director Robert Rowan passed away in 2018 following a cardiac arrest. 

With tireless support from Robert’s wife Suzanne, the club have worked closely with another heart charity, Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), to offer free cardiac screenings to young people between the ages of 14 and 35 in the local community.

On display, not locked away!

Marijke explained to Trust employees why proximity to, and effective positioning of, defibrillators was paramount.

She shared a personal account of a life-and-death incident that happened at her local leisure centre to underscore how critical it is that organisations choose the right location for their device.

“You don’t need a dedicated first aider to fetch the defibrillator. When defibs are kept inside, that is what I hear a lot: ‘Oh, we’ve got a first aider who gets it’. Having a defib outside allows anyone to get it.”

Those extra seconds saved can be the difference between life and death.

If it is a venue where activities are held indoors, such as a swimming pool or gym, then the defibrillator should ideally be stored in a cabinet on the wall in a prominent position, with clear signs to direct people to it.

I asked the person at the leisure centre reception desk where their defib was located because I couldn’t see one anywhere,” adds Marijke. “The lady told me that the first aider had the key and it was locked away in a room. I asked if I could speak to them, and she said they were not at work that day. Not very useful!

“I told her that until they could get it properly installed, it needed to be kept at the desk, ready to pass to someone as soon as something happens. 

“Two weeks later this man collapsed, and we successfully resuscitated him. I don’t know what would have happened had the defibrillator been locked away.”

From her experiences working on the front line in the NHS, Marijke always checks where the nearest defibrillator is installed in case of a cardiac emergency. Inadvertently, through force of habit, her observant eye helped to save someone’s life.

Christian Eriksen knows better than anyone the importance of having quick and easy access to a defibrillator:

It’s something that saved my life. And if it wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Eriksen at the unveiling of a defibrillator that was presented to a sports club by the Premier League Defibrillator Fund – an initiative supported by The FA, Football Foundation and Sport England.

Great Danes lead the way

According to the British Heart Foundation, nearly a third of UK adults are not likely to attempt CPR

Recalling the incident at the leisure centre, Marijke says: “I was on the balcony watching my daughter swim. There were people outside who had been to my swimming session who came to get me. I think that throws up another interesting point: how reluctant people are to even start CPR or use a defibrillator.”

Would you be confident of knowing how to react if a person collapsed in front of you and there was no trained medical staff to call on to start the ‘chain of survival’?  

“The fact that many people who witness a cardiac arrest do not perform CPR and are apprehensive about using a defibrillator is why training is so important,” adds Marijke.

In Denmark they train people early in schools. These children are now all adults, and they do not hesitate, and as a result the rate of survival is much higher.”

It is a sobering statistic that, for every 10 sudden cardiac arrests that happen out of hospital in the UK, only one person survives.

“Sadly, even if you get there straightaway, sometimes people don’t survive. But know that by doing something – phoning 999 for an ambulance, starting CPR (even if you don’t know for sure you are doing it correctly), and sending someone to get a defib – you are giving that person the best chance of survival.”

If effective action is taken within the first minute, it can treble someone’s chances of survival.

Marijke stresses that people who suffer a sudden cardiac arrest are technically dead, “so you can’t make the situation any worse.

It is really important to know that you can’t go wrong, just as it is really important for your own peace of mind to know that you did everything you possibly could to help save that person’s life.”

Half an hour of your life, to save someone’s life

Robert Rowan was appointed Brentford’s Technical Director following three and a half years working as the club’s Head of Football Operations. He died in November 2018 at the age of 28.

Suzanne has dedicated herself to honouring the memory of her husband by helping to save the lives of others with undiagnosed heart conditions. 

She is passionate about educating people how to act quickly and confidently in the event of a sudden cardiac arrest.

It is so important to get training. We are quite happy to spend time on trivial things in life that take so much longer than the half an hour or so it takes to get the knowledge you need that could one day help you save someone’s life.”

“Robert knew he had an issue with his heart but between doctors in Scotland and doctors in London, they were never able to give him a proper diagnosis.

He felt absolutely fine when he went to bed that Sunday night, and there was nothing to alert us that there was anything wrong. He just went to sleep and never woke up again.”

Suzanne points out that between 12 and 16 apparently fit and healthy people under the age of 35 die from a previously undiagnosed heart condition in the UK every week. Eighty per cent of these deaths will occur with no prior symptoms.

She encourages people aged 14 to 35 to register with CRY and book a heart screening, which will check your heart’s rhythm and electrical activity to see if there are any abnormalities. 

“Even with screening, doctors cannot guarantee to help everyone, because there is no one-size-fits all condition that can be treated, but it can minimise the risk of having a sudden cardiac arrest in those who show no symptoms and appear to be in the prime of their lives,” says Suzanne.

“I watched Christian have a cardiac arrest in the European Championships. Seven months later Brentford had signed him.

“I think that people are starting to realise that – after seeing what happened to people like Christian and Fabrice Muamba – it’s not just the elderly; people from every age group and every fitness level can have a cardiac arrest.”

Coincidentally, Eriksen’s former doctor at Tottenham, Professor Sanjay Sharma, is a consultant cardiologist for CRY. He revealed that, during the midfielder’s seven-year spell at Spurs, the club’s rigorous routine screening process had thrown up no red flags.

“Tests won’t always pick up heart problems, but often they do. And it can be a life-saver,” says Suzanne, who explains how she first became involved with CRY.

Andy Scott was a good friend of Robert and is a former Brentford player, manager and Head of Recruitment. He wrote a lovely condolence card when Robert passed away and explained about his role at CRY and that he had a heart condition himself. 

“The club were keen to hold a remembrance game a few weeks after Robert passed away and they asked us if there was a charity that we would like the proceeds to go to. That’s what really motivated me to get involved. Especially with CRY offering counselling services to bereaved families, it was the obvious choice.”

A big win for Brentford

Suzanne urges all those who operate in the physical activity and sport sector to take UK Coaching’s free online course and learn to be quick, be smart, and restart a heart.

And the rallying cry was echoed by Brentford FC CST Marketing and Partnerships Manager Tomas Abreu:

“Ever since Rob passed away the club has been heavily invested in raising awareness of sudden cardiac arrests and how to help save lives through building partnerships and passing on information through our community programmes.

“With the heart screening initiative we organised with CRY, and with the help and support of Christian, we encouraged Brentford fans and people in the area between the ages of 14 and 35 to get heart screening for free. 

“In the process, our staff discovered through their grass-roots clubs that there were a number of cases over the years where people had suffered cardiac arrests playing football in our local community. 

“Since identifying these cases, we have maximised our fundraising efforts to support different clubs and partners to raise awareness and provide training and to put days like this together to enable our own staff to develop the set of skills needed to react in an emergency situation.”

The Trust’s Head of Recruitment, Training and Quality Assurance, Calum McHardy, added:

“Talks are already underway to roll out the face-to-face training to all non-medical staff at the training ground, as well as office, stewards and stadium staff. We will also be recommending they take UK Coaching’s online training to embed what they have learned on the practical sessions.”

The four-strong JHMT team of Marijke, retired ITU consultant Dr Mike Ferguson, East Midlands Ambulance Service paramedic Elliot Forman, and fellow paramedic James Pilbeam, are ready for the return trip to Brentford.

The training may be a game of two halves, but the result is not in any doubt – a big win for the Brentford community.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Digital Toolkit

Learn to be quick, be smart and restart a heart with our life-saving digital learning toolkit that will enable you to act swiftly and effectively in the event of a sudden cardiac arrest.

Take a look

Related Resources

  • Sudden Cardiac Arrest: A Coach’s Story

  • Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Know How to Act

  • How to Respond to a Sudden Cardiac Arrest


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