Doncaster Rovers Belles captain Sophie Scargill, 26, ruptured the lateral meniscus ligament and caused severe trauma to her ACL and LCL joints during a training session on September 21.
She is contracted to the club but receives no money for playing because Rovers Belles – part of Club Doncaster who also operate Doncaster Rovers – are an amateur, fourth-tier outfit. She only receives expenses and is only insured up to £250.
If Scargill went through the NHS, she would not have received an MRI scan until November and doctors told her she may have to wait between one and two years for the surgery, which left the 26-year-old fearing her career may be over. So she has gone private, received an MRI scan last month and is due to have surgery on October 26.
To raise £5,000 and save her career, Scargill set up a JustGiving page on Tuesday, which thanks to the contributions of Rovers favourites like James Coppinger, Ben Whiteman and Matty Blair, and members of the public, has already raised over £2,000.
At the same time as Scargill was considering her options as to how to fund her treatment, Rovers pledged to pay for the knee and ankle surgery of Joe Wright, a men’s first-team player who suffered those injuries playing for the club in April. Wright’s contract with Rovers expired in the summer.
“I’ve not approached Rovers once, I’ve not asked for any help,” said Scargill, who also works as a commercial executive for Doncaster Rovers.
“I was told I had insurance but that was only £250 and doesn’t even cover the MRI scan which was £350.
“I’m not bashing the NHS at all, but I wouldn’t be able to wait two years for the surgery because my mental health would be on the floor. When the doctor said it would massively increase the chances or never playing again, I panicked and went private, then realised I don’t have the £5,000.
“Lots of people told me to do crowdfunding so I didn’t have to take out a loan.”
Rovers have since offered to loan her the £5,000 and Scargill says the club’s chief executive Gavin Baldwin has been supportive. But given she has already raised more than £2,000, Scargill wants to continue down that path.
“I’ve been really overwhelmed with the support from the public, from the fans, my team-mates and colleagues,” she said. “The messages have lifted me from a tough place and it means the world to me to know people have my back. The injury has broken my heart.
“My mental health genuinely depends on me being active, so I’m so grateful to the people who have helped me raise the money and profile of the page and promise that when I’m back fit I’ll be raising money for charity through running to thank everyone who has selflessly helped me.
“Hopefully with this operation I can make it back for at least one game this season and giving my all to my club as I still believe the group we have can get promoted.”
If Rovers Belles were to win promotion this year, it is understood they would have to start paying their players in the third tier, which is just one step below a Championship level that is becoming more professional with each passing year.
Scargill’s plight also comes in the same week that Rovers were rewarded with the news that the Keepmoat Stadium is to host an England Lionesses game against Latvia on Tuesday, November 30.
Women’s football is gaining widespread appeal with a new lucrative satellite and terrestrial television deal to broadcast Super League games.
But the fact Scargill felt compelled to take to Twitter to ask for support to pay for her surgery highlights an area football must improve upon as it marches towards gender equality.
A spokesperson for Doncaster Rovers Belles said: “We have great sympathy for Sophie and the devastating impact an injury like this can have on both physical and mental well-being.
“Sophie is insured as all of our players are but this premium does not cover the full cost of this surgery. Unfortunately, Doncaster Rovers Belles is not currently playing at a level where it can absorb the costs of a player’s operation.”