The captain of Scottish Premier club Motherwell FC collapsed and died during a match against Dundee United yesterday. Phil O'Donnell, who was 35, is believed to be only the fifth case in British football history of a top player dying during a game or as a result of injuries received in one.
With the mid-afternoon Scottish Premier League game heading toward its closing stages, O'Donnell was set to be replaced by a substitute, but fell to the pitch as the change was taking place. After been treated for about five minutes on the field, O'Donnell was taken by ambulance to Wishaw General Hospital.
A statement from the club said yesterday: "Motherwell and Dundee medical staff believe [O'Donnell] suffered a seizure and efforts were made to revive him en route to hospital. Despite the efforts of the two clubs' medical staff and staff at the hospital Phil did not regain consciousness and was pronounced dead at 17.18."
The cause of his death was not immediately clear.
O'Donnell, a married father-of-four, was known as "Uncle Phil" at Motherwell, where his nephew David Clarkson was a team-mate. Clarkson was playing in yesterday's match and was taken off after witnessing his uncle's collapse.
Motherwell manager Mark McGhee said: "I don't want to say anything more than how devastated everyone at the club is for his wife and his young children... Obviously from the club's point of view we'll gather round to give his family as much support as they need."
Scotland's Sport minister Stewart Maxwell said: "Phil O'Donnell's death brings a sudden and tragic end to a distinguished career."
O'Donnell, who won one Scotland cap, began his career with Motherwell and rejoined the club in 2004 following spells with Celtic, who he had gone to in a 1.75m deal in 1994, and Sheffield Wednesday. One of his highlights at Motherwell was scoring for the team in its 4-3 win over Dundee United in the 1991 Scottish Cup final.
Former Scotland manager Craig Brown said it was "very, very sad news". "I think everyone in the game will acknowledge what a wonderful player he was and an outstanding gentleman, and I would expect to have a minute's applause at every ground in Scotland at the next fixture," he told Sky Sports News.
Although instances of players dying during non-league games are surprisingly frequent, deaths at the most senior level are very rare. In 1990, York City striker Dave Longhurst, 25, died after collapsing two minutes before half-time in a match against Lincoln City. An inquest revealed a rare heart condition. In perhaps the best-known sudden death internationally, Cameroon mid-fielder Marc-Vivien Foe died in 2003 immediately after a Confederations Cup match against Colombia .
Back in 1921, Horace Fairhurst died after suffering a head injury during a match between Blackpool and Barnsley; John Thomson died in 1931 after his skull was fractured during a Celtic vs Rangers derby match, and, in 1936, goalkeeper Jimmy Thorpe died after he was kicked in the head and chest while collecting a back-pass for Sunderland FC against Chelsea.