The former England captain, who has achieved every accolade in the game, has been forced to call time on his playing career on medical grounds.
Vickery sustained a neck injury against Gloucester at Kingsholm earlier this season. The injury has caused severe neck pain which is preventing the 34-year-old from continuing with any form of rugby or weight training. On review with his neurosurgeon, Richard Nelson, and lengthy consultation with the London Wasps medical team, Vickery has been advised that the only course of action is to retire from all rugby. During this period he also suffered from a bout of shingles which he has now fully recovered from.
A player renowned for his passion for the game, the past few months and the journey to this conclusion has been an incredibly difficult one for all involved.
With a career that boasts an England captaincy, 73 caps for his country, a World Cup, two Six Nations titles, two British and Irish and Lions tours including 5 caps and a total of 13 appearances, as well as a play-off final victory with Gloucester and a Heineken Cup and Premiership title with Wasps, there are few players in the game that can compete which such a record.
Beginning his career with Bude, followed by a stint at Redruth, Vickery enjoyed over ten years with Gloucester where he made 146 appearances, captaining the side on 46 occasions. He established himself on the domestic stage and England honours quickly followed, making his debut in 1998 against Wales. Part of the 2003 World Cup winning England side, Vickery is currently the fifth most-capped forward for his country, achieving his 60th cap when captaining England in the 2007 Rugby World Cup final. He went on to lead his country 15 times after succeeding Martin Corry in January 2007 and can also add Lions captaincy to his accolades, becoming the first Cornishman to lead the Lions in the 2009 fifth tour match against Western Province.
Joining Wasps in 2006, Vickery overcame the odds and his doubters to enjoy five seasons in black and gold, securing 54 appearances and European and domestic silverware in his first two years. Leading the side 12 times he embodies the ethos of the Club that he is forced to leave prematurely.
“Anyone that knows me will know that I can be a bit headstrong - I’m not afraid of fighting back or proving people wrong but there comes a stage when you have to listen and trust in the experts and it is based on medical reasons that I have been forced to retire”, said Vickery.
“My love and passion for the game is still there which is the most disappointing thing for me - I wanted to end my career playing and playing with Wasps. Prior to the Gloucester game the conversations with Tony Hanks and Steve Hayes were centred on extending my contract for another year - four or five weeks down the line and I have to stop playing and for me that is just horrible. It’s not a nice feeling and ultimately I’m a sportsman so in my head it feels like admitting defeat, but I’ve got faith in Richard Nelson and Prav Mathema and they have been nothing but honest with me from day one - when they say that enough is enough you have to listen.
“My desire and want to play is still as strong as it’s ever been but this is something that has to happen and I’m looking forward to the next chapter. I suppose in a way when one door closes another opens. You remember all the good things, all the positives, and everything that you’ve learnt and try and pass it on and I want to stay involved at the Club in some way. I want people to know that I’m still here for them and if I can help then give us a call and I’ll try and help out. The Club have done a huge amount for me. I remember when I signed here and the owner Chris Wright sat down and took a load of difficult questions about me and the risks that Wasps were taking - he sat there and said ‘no I’m looking forward to working with Phil’. They got me back to playing, not only at Club level but within six months I was back playing for England and went on to captain the team at the World Cup. Steve Hayes and the Board have continued that support and the family ethos that the Club boasts is very much a part of its daily being rather than a nice sentiment. There is a good set up in place and we have a strong squad which I believe can really make a mark on this season – the talent and the belief is there it’s just a case of execution going forward and I really want to see the boys succeed this year.
“I will look back on my career with a lot of happy memories. I feel privileged to have been part of some amazing teams in Wasps and Gloucester, to have worked with the best coaches in the world, and to have played against and with some of the best players in the game. Through the sad times, the injuries and the set backs, my desire and passion for the game has never wavered. Rugby has given me an awful lot and I still love the game and I look back with real happiness, it’s been amazing. As well as Wasps, I will miss playing for England dearly. To be able to stand on a rugby field and sing our national anthem was truly brilliant, an amazing experience and one which I have never taken for granted. I wish England all the very best and I hope Johnno can help get England back to where they should be at the top of those world rankings and I’m looking forward to seeing how the team develops.
“All the happy memories are ones that wouldn’t have been possible without so many people and the list is too long to mention everyone but first and foremost I need to thank Richard Nelson and Prav Mathema, Tony Hanks, Shaun Edwards, Trevor Woodman and Steve Hayes and the Board for their support. Since my arrival at the Club the way the Board, sponsors and supporters have welcomed me into the Wasps family probably amazed me more than anything. We have a great group of fans that are hugely passionate. It is extremely hard for me to have to walk away from a career that I love and it is important to me that I thank everyone that has made that possible.”
On the announcement Wasps’ Director of Rugby Tony Hanks, said, “The injury sustained at Gloucester was hugely disappointing for Vicks because we felt he came back after the pre- season in the best shape he’s been in for a long time and was really back to his best. We were really excited about his future, to the point where a contract extension was on the cards, so it is obviously a hugely frustrating and disappointing time for him that the full extent of the injury has become more clear since his illness cleared. In any situation like this the medical advice has got to be followed and in saying that I think that it is now important to help Vicks through this time and be supportive of him and celebrate what he has achieved in the game.
“He’s has enjoyed a fantastic career achieving most things there are to achieve and will be remembered alongside the great rugby players of our generation with a World Cup, Premiership title, Heineken Cup, and England and Lions captaincy to his name.
“I don’t think you can underestimate his contribution to Wasps, both on the pitch and through the leadership that he’s brought. He has fully bought into the Wasps culture and become a strong advocate of it. We wish him, Kate and their family all the very best for the future and I’m sure that, as Vicks has said, this is not the end of Phil Vickery and Wasps.”
Prav Mathema, Wasps Head Physio added, “Phil has shown incredible determination and personal drive to return from a plethora of operations throughout his career. He has overcome a number of career threatening injuries in the past and it is a testament to his sheer stubbornness and unparalleled hard work. He has been an incredible individual to work with and it will be very sad not to have his terrible banter in the treatment room anymore.”
Wasps Owner Steve Hayes also paid tribute to Vickery, “Phil has been a fantastic servant to Wasps and to the game. He has achieved every accolade yet is one of the most humble men I have had the pleasure of working with. We are hugely disappointed for him that he has been forced into a decision based on medical terms but player welfare is our priority. To compete in the front row there can be no doubt and no one in rugby would want to see Phil Vickery end his career carried off a pitch – that is no way for a gladiator to go. He ends his career as one of Wasps’ legends and someone who will forever be a part of this family. To me he epitomises the values of this Club and of our sport and is one of the most loyal and honest men in the game who is truly passionate and believes in what rugby is about.”
Click on the speaker icon to hear from Vickery at today's announcement.