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Insurance Stories: tales of the beautiful game & insurance

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Football, the world's most popular sport, captivates millions with its thrilling matches and iconic moments. However, beyond the crowds and excitement on the pitch lies a fascinating intersection with an industry often overlooked in sports narratives—the insurance industry.

From the early days of rudimentary coverage to the sophisticated policies of today's multi-billion pound industry, insurance has played a pivotal role in the evolution of football. Whether it's the assurance of player salaries during injuries, safeguarding stadiums, or securing events from unforeseen disruptions, the insurance industry has been a silent yet crucial player in the football world.

With Euro 2024 beginning this evening, HFG's Paul Miller delves into the history between the beautiful game and insurance.

Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona almost signed for Tottenham Hotspur in 1994 but the £10,000 monthly cost of insuring him was said to be one of the reasons the move didn't go ahead.

Maradona played in a charity match in 1984 that was organised to raise money for a child in need of an operation. The game was to be held in one of the poorest suburbs of Naples where the pitch was described as a potato field. Napoli had recently signed Maradona from Barcelona and were nervous about him taking part in case he was injured. This led to Diego paying the release clause in the club's insurance contract himself, saying: "F*** the Lloyd's of London, this game has to go ahead."

Insuring the World Cup

The England players that Maradona skipped past to score at the 1986 World Cup finals were insured at the tournament against becoming the victim of a terror attack, a hijacking, kidnap, injury or illness. Each were covered for different amounts with the lowest being Peter Shilton (£250,000) and the highest Peter Reid and Mark Hateley (£2,000,000). The finest centre-half to play the game, Alvin Martin, was insured for $1 million.

When England won the World Cup in 1966, hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst, captain Bobby Moore and goalscorer Martin Peters were each covered at Lloyd’s for £50,000 against career ending injury. The Jules Rimet trophy that Bobby Moore lifted that year was also insured at Lloyd's - for £30,000.

Geoff Hurst famously scored a hattrick in the 1966 final, before moving into insurance once his career was over. Working for Abbey Life, a story goes that a customer on the telephone said 'Well if you're Geoff Hurst, I'm Marilyn Monroe."

Keep your fingers covered

Not to be outdone by professional players, a 15-year-old Subbuteo champion insured his fingers in 1979 for $25,000. He was known as Master Goalfinger and was playing in the world championships at Wembley that year. He was told by underwriters to wear nail polish when competing in order to keep his nails strong.

Another footballer to insure their fingers at Lloyd's was Derby County goalkeeper Ray Middleton. At the outbreak of World War Two Mr. Middleton stayed in his local area and worked as a miner to assist the war effort. His £2,000 policy covered him against any mining injury that would cut his football career short.

Charles Bambridge

In amongst the players in this illustration of an England v Scotland match is a Lloyd's underwriter. The game was played on the 5th April 1879 at the Kennington Oval in front of 4,000 fans. Scotland went in at the break 4-1 up, but England stormed back with left-winger Charlie Bambridge scoring twice, including an 83rd-minute winner. Bambridge was a marine underwriter who overspeculated, and went broke, in 1909.

Five years before this game was played, the two teams met in a friendly match in Glasgow. Scotland won that one with a final scoreline of 2-1. Making his England debut at the back was another marine underwriter, Alfred Lubbock. He was selected after starring for Old Etonians in the replay of the FA Cup Final that year.

Insuring the superstars

When Cristiano Ronaldo almost damaged a knee in 2009, the club insured his legs for £90million, covering the player they had signed months before for £80 million against career-ending injury.

Brazilian Ronaldo was also insured against the same risk for £50 million in 2002.

Manchester United centre-half, Rio Ferdinand, suffered a knee ligament injury in England’s first training session in South Africa at the 2010 World Cup. Lloyd’s Syndicate 457, the Watkins Syndicate – backed by Munich Re - was the lead underwriter on an FA policy, along with a number of other syndicates that shared the cost of Rio’s claim of £1m. The policy covered the player’s weekly wages, to protect their club should they be badly injured during the tournament.

When he left Manchester United to join Real Madrid in 2006, Ferdinand’s United and England teammate David Beckham covered himself at Lloyd’s with a £100 million policy. The focal point of the policy was his legs, but language was also included that protected his face, owing to the commercial opportunities it allowed him to earn. Before the policy was approved, Lloyd’s underwriters consulted with orthopaedic surgeons, physiotherapists, and doctors, in order to calculate fair value. The premium was set at $1.5 million per year.

Transfer snags

Scotland international, Jim Blythe, wasn’t quite so lucky in the transfer market in 1978, after his move from Coventry City to Manchester United fell through at the last minute. As the press conference was about to begin, manager Dave Sexton announced: “The deal has hit a snag. Our specialists cannot guarantee that he is 100% fit. The problem here is an insurance one.” The problem was a back injury that he sustained in training. Blythe said: “I’m very disappointed but it is not anybody’s fault and the insurance company have to safeguard themselves. All I can do now is wait for a call from Mr. Sexton in case any way can be found round the insurance problem. If I can’t get insured, there is no next step.”

Another Manchester United player to suffer because of injury was Ian Moore. In 1973, it was ruled by the Football League that he must never play again as part of a deal which saw the league pay out compensation to permanently injured players. Moore, who’s career ended at the age of 28 after an ankle injury, was awarded £48,000 compensation. Through their own insurers, Manchester United received part-payment of the £480,000 it paid Nottingham Forest for the player.

United players had further reason to contact insurers in 1963, after their belongings were stolen from the dressing room during a European Cup game against Eintracht Frankfurt. Matt Busby said at the time: “Well over £100 in money was stolen from the United players’ clothing, but I don’t know the precise amount. Before we left Eintracht officials said they would investigate whether their insurance policies would allow a claim.”

Gazza & his Euro 96 teammates

Lloyd’s has over the years, insured a high number of England internationals, including Paul Gascoigne. Gazza insured himself at Lloyd's against the risk of a career-ending injury straight after Euro 96. He took out a policy that would have paid the remainder of his contract if forced to retire. An insurance issue came to light when he was asked to play in Paul Merson's testimonial that year. If he played more than 20 minutes, it would have cost £5,500 to insure him - too much for organisers. Not wanting to miss out, Gazza paid the premium himself and played 90 minutes.

Gazza’s teammate at Euro 96, Alan Shearer, flew to Asia on a tour with Newcastle shortly after the tournament ended. The Newcastle squad was insured for £60 million but Shearer’s £15 million transfer fee took them over their limit: "It was simply a case that Shearer's fee exceeded our insurance premium on the trip. You need two weeks to change it so Alan had to travel separately."

Another of the team, David Seaman, was sponsored by Reusch, the manufacturer of his keeper’s gloves, who covered his hands for £1 million as soon as the tournament ended. "His marketing and promotional value to us is absolutely priceless. His hands must be among the safest in the world."