Peterborough Youngster Bobby Copping Opens Up About Retiring From Football Aged 19 After Head Injury
Bobby Copping knew something was wrong almost immediately. After climbing to head away a routine cross during a pre-season training session in July last year, he fell to the ground. "The next thing I knew I was basically blind," he tells SPORTbible. "I couldn't see a thing."
For Bobby and his family, that day at Peterborough's training ground was the start of a painful seven-month journey that came to an emotional end on Thursday afternoon.
The highly-rated centre-back announced his retirement from the game because of a recurring head injury.
It was a decision the 19-year-old called "extremely heartbreaking" not just to him, but also to his family who invested so much into his profession. "From the very start they have been there and it hurts a lot knowing we can't continue my career any further," he says. "Words cannot describe how truly gutted I am."
Just a day after he revealed his retirement news to the world, we spoke to Bobby about his overwhelmingly difficult journey and, to his credit, he now wants to spread his story and inspire others who may be going through a similar situation.
It was an emotional chat to say the least. But an inspiring one.
This tough seven-month period began last summer in pre-season. Peterborough United were preparing for another year in League One after narrowly missing out on the play-offs and Copping was called up to the first-team after impressing manager Darren Ferguson.
It was all going smoothly for the teenager until a moment in training that would change his life forever.
"It happened when a cross was whipped into the box and I've headed it out," says Bobby. "As soon as I headed the ball, I landed and the next thing I knew I was basically blind. I couldn't see a thing. And then me being me, I still wanted to carry on even though I couldn't see.
"I even did the running exercises after, which I shouldn't have done."
The effects from that blow to the head were quickly getting worse and worse. In the physio room, he still couldn't see a thing. "If I was looking at you now, I could have seen the tiniest bit of you. It was that bad. I literally lost my vision. I felt sick. It was the worst pain in my head."
After being rushed to the hospital, the defender had CT scans on his brain and spent four days in hospital, where he was seen by one of the best brain specialists in the country. After everything was assessed to make sure there wasn't a major bleed on the brain, he got the all-clear and was allowed to go home.
Things looked promising. He slowly worked alongside the physio and sports scientist at Peterborough and was eventually eased into training with a staggered return.
It looked like Bobby had recovered from the blow and was doing well. In fact, at this point, he thought it was just a one-off. "I just thought the ball might have hit me in the wrong place," he tells us. "I built up my base fitness before doing more match intensity stuff and slowly played 30 minutes, then 45 minutes, before going to the bench.
"But in the warm-up, when I was about to play my first 90 minutes, it happened again."
Having made what he thought was a full recovery, Copping was named on the substitutes' bench for a first-team EFL Trophy clash at Cambridge in November and just days later, he was was about to play his first 90 minutes back when disaster struck.
"I was doing really well again," Bobby says. "I was getting ready to play my first game back but as I was warming up, I headed the ball and the exact same thing happened again. I lost all vision. My head was pounding. The club didn't take any risk, called an ambulance straight away and I was taken to hospital."
After many conversations with the club, brain specialists and medical staff, the 19-year-old made the decision to retire from professional football. He did try medication to see if that would stop the injury from reoccurring, but it didn't work, leaving only one realistic option for his long-term health and to prevent further damage.
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Despite taking those necessary steps however, the injury has taken a toll on his day-to-day life.
"I'm struggling to remember things at the moment," he tells us. "I don't know whether that's a short-term thing or if that's just because of what the injury has done to my brain. And it's more my short-term memory that's been badly affected.
"It's just little things; like say if you asked me what I did a few days ago, I wouldn't be able to tell you. I do remember one of the physio's telling me that I told him my birthday was in [the year] 1001 though, which would make me 1,000 years old. I wasn't in a good place!
"I also can't be a passenger in a car without getting a really bad headache and feeling sick. I've never had travel sickness before but after the injury, that came on. The random headaches are also bad, but mostly it's my memory."
The decision to retire from the game Bobby has loved since the age of two has also had an effect on his mental health, although with the help of his family, friends and hundreds of people on social media, his journey has had some positive moments.
"I'll be honest. It did have an impact on my mental health, yes," he says, wiping away tears shortly after speaking about the emotional reaction of his mum to the news.
"It's not something many people talk about. But it did affect me, but luckily I've got an amazing support network. My family. My girlfriend. The club. They've all been absolutely amazing and I definitely know that without all of them, I wouldn't have come through this. "
The support of Peterborough United in Bobby's decision has been nothing short of remarkable. In fact, the teenager has recently accepted an offer to work within the Academy in a business operations role; a very important job within the club as they plan for Category 2 status.
Darren Ferguson has also been integral in his road to recovery, along with his teammates at London Road.
"I've had various conversations with the gaffer. He agreed with all of us that health is more important at the end of the day. He's been absolutely amazing. He speaks to me. He speaks to my family. The way he's dealt with it... I can't thank him enough.
"I've also spoke to quite a few of my teammates as well. With them playing the game, they've all said there's a lot more to life than football. You don't want to risk it because it is so serious. Literally, I've had so much support from everyone at the club. From the safe guarding officer to the physios.
"Everyone in this building has supported me massively. I can't thank them enough for that."
Bobby says having people there for him has helped massively throughout this overwhelming situation.
"Even if it's just a brief chat. Having someone to talk to that can just say, 'Yeah it's alright.' I must admit, I was guilty of just sitting in my room thinking: 'What am I going to do now? All I've ever wanted to do was play football.' I was thinking I couldn't do anything else.
"But when you start speaking to people, there's lots of opportunities to take my career in football another path."
Despite it being such a horrible situation, there have been "many" positives for the youngster. He's had hundreds of supportive messages on social media from people as far away as Brazil, Argentina and Africa.
Just the other day, Tottenham striker Harry Kane sent him a signed shirt and, after being made aware about his story, Chelsea full-back Reece James spoke to him over the phone.
That response, he admits, has been "so overwhelming" but in a good way. "I'm grateful, I really am."
The teenager now wants to spread his story and inspire others who may be going through the same situation.
"I never want to see someone else go though this sort of thing, but if they are, I want to help them and let them know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Even right now it might seem horrendous, but you've just got to think there's always another path. With everyone's support, you can get through it.
"My entire career has been football. I've loved every minute of it. There's nothing else I ever wanted to do. All the way through from two years old to now. Being a footballer was my dream, it was everything I wanted to do. With the support of my family, I made that dream come true but unfortunately, circumstances out of my control have ended that dream early.
"But there is a lot of positives to take from my career, even if it has been cut short."
Featured Image Credit: Peterborough United/Joe Dent
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