Sorting out the weighting list

Falkirk F.C. physio and top weightlifter Stuart Yule tells sports editor James Friel of Commonwealth Games, life by the treatment table and the failings of sports drug testing.

WHO'S the strongest man at Falkirk F.C.? Watching the team on a Saturday you'd think John Hughes would be a good bet, at least since Owen Coyle left.

But a glance at the man with the magic sponge would put you in the right direction.

Physio Stuart Yule is one of Scotland's topweightlifters – a veteran of two Commonwealth Games at the age of 27.

He and twin brother Tommy made a little bit of history when a quirk of qualification saw them compete against one another at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Games – Stuart for Scotland, Tommy for England.

A painful elbow injury cut his Manchester experiece short in 2002, his snapped medial ligament requiring a graft to fix it. Now, as well as trying to keep the Bairns injury list down, he's got his eye on the next Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, 2006.

Stuart's dad competed at the 1974 Commonwealth Games while his mother threw the shot putt at the 1970 games. So it's hardly surprising that he and Tommy rose to the top, or that Stuart has broad enough shoulders to handle the responsibility of keeping footballers in peak condition.

He's at the club's Little Kerse training base from 9 a.m. every day, dealing with players from the under-18s to the first team. Apart from a few months with Livingston, the Falkirk post is Stuart's first in football, but he believes his sporting background gives him a head start over many physios.

He said: "Most physio's don't have experience of what top level athletic performance is all about.

"The experience you get while studying is hospital based. Problems there can be a lot more serious for people, sometimes lifethreatening, but this is a footballer's livelihood too. Would-be physios aren't actually encouraged to get into sport

''You've got to have an understanding of the sport and what the demands are. Fortunately I know about this because of my weightlifting background. It might not be football but I've been in a high level of sport and know what is required at that level."

"I couldn't be happier in terms of where I am just now. I like Yogi's vision of where things are and concentrate on the prevention of injury rather than just fixing them.

"Things can be avoided by good preparation. We're getting gym equipment in and are looking at getting the young players on good conditioning programmes and teaching them proper sprint techniques. We're looking at the young players and trying to put a structure in place for their physical development. A lot of the problems I see in football are down to weak lower back and trunk muscles and the players need to do exercises to correct that. It will make them faster and more powerful.

"Injury doesn't just happen in isolation, it could be a cumulative effect of several things."

The disappointment of his injury in Manchester hasn't gone away, nor has the desire to reach the top of his sport. He's currently helping his brother prepare for the World Championships in Canada and said: "I don't want to end my career that way. I'm looking at the 2006 Games in Melbourne to get back and do myself justice. After I finish at Little Kerse I still go to the gym and train, without following a strict training plan.

"Next year I'll look at what competitions I need to peak for, and what I have to do to get selected. It wouldn't get in the way of the job as I'd be competing maybe every six weeks."

Weightlifting has a history of drug cheats, and with a foot in the football camp too Stuart is well placed to comment on the current controversies with Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand and top sprinter Dwain Chambers. Chambers looks likely to be banned from the sport after testing positive for the previously undetectable steroid THG.

Like many observers, Stuart believes the system requires a radical overhaul to win the fight against cheats. The current system costs thousands each year, with little in the way of results. Even the recent THG discovery only came after samples of the drugs were anonymously handed to the authorities.

Stuart said: "I don't think drug testing works in the UK. I've been tested since I was 15. Before the 98 Games I was tested five times in 10 days. I was even tested four weeks ago and I haven't competed for a year. They do random tests but most people who are taking drugs won't be caught like that. They are only testing people who don't take drugs. People who are taking them find ways to get away with it – either through designer drugs or avoiding tests.

"You have to make the athletes responsible and put a system in place where the athlete is required to turn up somewhere. If you get caught you should be banned for life.''