Sunday, 18 November 2012

Full Return to Football

27th July 2011 - Paddington Rec - My left Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is ruptured in a viscous attack by a centre forward who is reckless beyond belief.

10th February 2012 - Chelsea and Westminster Hospital - My ACL is replaced by a piece of hamstring from my left leg.

17th November 2012 - 4pm - Firs Farm, Palmers Green - As player-manager of Mayfield 3s I get the referee's attention for a substitution and call the name of the player to come off. He jogs towards the touchline and I hand him my red Adidas hoodie and jog into right midfield.

476 days after a mindless Italian used my knee as a shortcut to the ball my football life restarts with ten minutes left of a game in the LOB Drummond Cup. Mayfield have just conceded to go 1-0 down in a match they should have been leading. A game in fact that they should have sewn up. The opposition, Oakhill Tigers are three divisions above Mayfield but we have made them look ordinary without actually putting the ball in the net.

I had hoped that my return would be at a point in the match when it didn't matter but life never follows the script you write in your head. We need a goal, in an ideal world I wouldn't have come on but the player I am replacing has looked knackered for the last ten minutes. Maybe if I had been braver and come on sooner we would not now be losing.

So here's my chance. A comeback and the possibility of being a hero.

The game, at all levels, looks simple from the side. I have spent the last 80 minutes looking on in dismay as error has followed error and we have thrown away a game we should be winning. Having kept my counsel for most of it at least I haven't been set up for a fall. A few minutes earlier I had sent another player back on with the words 'now is your chance to be a hero or a zero', I hear these words in my head now. It is the same for me although hero is more of a chance for me as I have arrived with us in deficit.

The game seems quicker now I am in the middle of it and as time passes I begin to think I won't ever get a touch of the ball. Eventually I do, and it's not good. My first touch is too hard, and the ball skips away out of possession. Slowly though I gain confidence, I'm still worried about having a major challenge and manage to avoid any such situations. A couple of neat passes and I'm in the game.

Then the moment comes. The chance to make a difference. I receive the ball with my back to goal but surrounded by defenders. I turn and beat one man, almost by accident. Another comes in for a challenge and I can't shoot but the ball bobbles off my shin towards the player who had come on just before me. He is six yards out with just the keeper to beat. It's his chance, our chance, to both be heroes but now my fate rests in his hands, or foot. He shoots, making good contact, but the ball goes to the one place where it won't be a goal, straight into the arms of the keeper. I can't quite believe he hasn't scored. Neither can he as he kneels in the mud, head in hands.

A minute later and I am on the shoulder of the last man, our Scottish beanpole has the ball 20 yards out, if he rolls it to me I am in on goal but he decides to shoot. His strike is solid, powerful even but again it goes straight at the keeper. It drifts in the air, on the way and the keeper only managers to parry it sideways, on to the goal line.

My first thought is that it is going to go in and although I could probably poke it over the line it would be unfair to take away my team mate's glory. This causes a momentary hesitation on my part and it is enough to ruin my day. The ball doesn't cross the line and me and the centre half hurtle towards the ball, he is an inch ahead of me and clears it off the line. I appeal in vain to the ref that it crossed over the line, over that line between glory and defeat, but I know I am lying. I know he won't relent. In my mind and my heart I know that the moment of hesitation has cost me the glory of pushing us into extra time. I'm disappointed in myself but then I realise that for those few intense seconds I wasn't thinking about my knee, I was concentrating purely on trying to score. Yes I failed to put the ball in the net but in that moment I won a bigger battle, a battle with my sub-concious. I don't smile, or celebrate this, but I do feel better about life.

I'm back and playing and that is all I have wanted for a year and half. We're out the cup but I am back in the game.


  1. Hello Daniel, nice to know that u returned to football on the date u had set for urself! I'm recovering from an ACL reconstruction and needless to say, I sorely miss playing football. I'm 3 months post-op now. I have a question regarding the recovery...I have some slight slackness in my knee when bent at 90 degrees only. In full extension, my leg is stable. I don't actually ever feel the laxity when I'm walking, but I can see the leg move when pulled at. Is this normal during recovery? My quads arent the best that u can see, so my doc says building the quad muscle mass will solve it. What's ur take on this?

  2. Hi, I 'm not really qualified to answer this. I found that my physios were great with this sort of thing. As you'll know from the blog I had lots of good physio. You need to ask your physio what they think. Building up the leg muscles is obviously vital. One thing I would say is that it is best to do lots of little exercise often the one long session a week. Good luck with it, let me know how it goes. Daniel

  3. Thanks for your answer. My physio too says what my doc said, that building the quad muscle mass will solve it. I workout everyday in the gym for almost an hour in the morning, and for half an hour in the evening. Thanks for the wishes as well! Will let you know.

  4. Hello Daniel, congratulations of your full recovery and return to normal! I worked a lot on my quad and hamstring muscles and they've increased in bulk and strength. The laxity I talked about three months back has reduced, although it is still present. I'm working on my quads and hamstrings yet. I think I'm on course to making a full recovery soon.