Matt Crooks on managing epilepsy in elite football

Matt Crooks

Purple Day – 26th March – is an annual international grassroots effort dedicated to increasing awareness about epilepsy worldwide. To mark the day, the PFA met with Matt Crooks to discuss his diagnosis and his approach to managing the condition as an elite footballer.  

The Leeds-born forward recently made a move from the EFL’s Middlesbrough FC to Real Salt Lake, the Utah-based MLS side. He is one of very few professional footballers living with epilepsy. 

At the time of his diagnosis, age 18, Crooks was playing in Huddersfield’s academy. He explains how he first came to realise he had epilepsy, with support from the club’s proactive medical staff.  

“After my first seizure, I just remember waking up in hospital feeling confused and dazed. I wasn’t really sure what was going on.”  

“I then went to training on the Monday and told the physio that I had had a seizure. I didn’t think too much more about it, but obviously the medical team were keen to understand the cause. And I’m really grateful that they pushed for further exploration.” 

“They got me to the best neuro specialists quite quickly, and all became clear after that. So, I was really lucky to have that so early on.”   

“I’ve had fantastic support throughout my entire career with clubs, managers and players all supporting me when I needed it.” 

Crooks, now 30, is able to manage his condition with the help of medication, though pays close attention to potential seizure triggers such as tiredness.  

“I’ve had the same attitude throughout the whole diagnosis – I just take it as it comes. That’s just my outlook on life.  

“I don’t think it ever came into my head that I might not be able to play football again. 

“I do my best to avoid getting overly-tired though, as that’s one of my triggers. For example, when there’s night games, I make sure I take my medication before the game rather than after.” 

Crooks hopes that by speaking openly about his epilepsy, he is able to support others who live with the condition. 

“Everyone is different. And everyone’s epilepsy is different. It really is a wide-ranging spectrum – but for me, it’s about not letting it affect my life, or my football, as much as I can. Lots of that comes down to experience with managing the condition. 

“I’ve realised it’s good for me to speak about it because if other people find themselves in a similar situation, they can see someone like me who is still achieving what I want to do. It doesn’t need to be a barrier to achieving.” 

Crooks is a patron of the Peter Doody Foundation, a charity established by the parents of Peter Doody who passed away in 2019 aged just 21 as a result of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP).   

Joanne Doody, co-founder of the charity said: “We reached out to Matt because he’s the perfect example of someone who is living with epilepsy but succeeding in life.  

“Epilepsy is without a doubt a life-changing diagnosis, however Matt hasn’t let his epilepsy define him.” 

“We were honoured when Matt agreed to be our patron as he represents a tremendous role model to so many other young adults currently living with this complex neurological condition.”  

Crooks recently supported the Foundation’s Stop SUDEP Silence campaign, which encourages clinicians to inform of SUDEP as per the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines.  

The charity Epilepsy Action say raising awareness of epilepsy has a direct positive impact on those living with the condition. Purple Day, which occurs every year on 26th March, is focused on doing just this.  

“We’ve been told by people with epilepsy that making sure everyone understands what the condition is, and how they can support, is the number one thing we can deliver." says Chantal Spittles, PR and Media Manager at Epilepsy Action. 

“It has such a positive impact on their wellbeing, and it ultimately makes them feel less alone.”  

“It starts with just a small step, like learning more about the condition, what to do when someone has a seizure, and making them feel like they won’t be judged or stigmatised.” 

“With the right treatment and support, people with epilepsy can thrive in life, just like in Matt’s case.” 

“It’s especially encouraging to hear that, in Matt’s experience, supportive managers, clubs and players have made such a difference, on top of being able to get the right treatment.” 

Click here to learn more about epilepsy from Epilepsy Action.  Click here to learn more about the Peter Doody Foundation.  

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