We all have those events in our lives that, without knowing it at the time, have a huge impact on our future. On a winter Sunday morning in 1998 I had one of those events.
‘Chariots United’, a team I’d built a couple of years before, were playing away from home in Stotfold, Bedfordshire. It’s funny because I don’t remember much about the match. I remember it was damp, a bit muddy, the pitch was on a slope but I was playing ok at centre-forward. I do however remember every detail about that split second of the challenge. I was in the middle of the park on the edge of the box, the cross came over to me perfectly, ready for a twisting volley that was destined for the top right hand corner of the goal. As the ball struck my swinging right foot, my left foot was fully planted in the mud. I was challenged for the ball by a defender, he had no chance of stopping the goal of the season but he took out my planted left leg, my foot didn’t move but my knee took the full force and bent in a way it was not designed to. The noise was like someone tearing a big thick sheet of cardboard and the pain? Jeeez the pain!!! My knee immediately turned into the size of the football. Screaming like a banshee I was carried off. I was not a happy boy. The magic sponge was having no effect and even though our physio (one of our player’s old man) told me to man-up and get back out there, I couldn’t walk!!! With a very sad cloud over me, I was carried off to a mate’s car and went straight off to the hospital.
You’ve got to love the NHS. Great health system for emergencies but sometimes lacking when it comes to ignorant, ‘not dealing with pain very well’ footballers. It was Sunday morning so there was an array of pub league football injuries hobbling through the door so it was like rush hour on the M25. I had waited 3 hours, finally got to see a doctor that looked 12 years old. He pushed and prodded, ummed and aarghed and sent me for an x-ray. The x-ray showed nothing, so I was strapped up, given crutches and told to come back in 3 weeks if it didn’t improve!!!! 3 weeks?? I mean WTF.
I was in extreme pain, trying to hobble around on crutches I’d never used before and unable to drive, feeling very sorry for myself. Luckily I had Private Health insurance so the next day went to Bupa Harpenden. They’re diagnosis was that it was “bad”, no shit, and they booked me in for the Wednesday for an arthroscopy (key whole surgery). It was a day procedure so I went in mid-morning, prepped and was then sent off to sleep. As they brought me round the surgeon said “It’s worse than we thought, here’s the video!!!! The video? In my delirious state I thought I’d woken up in Blockbusters!!!
The surgeon came to see me and said I’d snapped my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). He said it was all on the video as they have a camera in the knee so the surgeon could see what he was doing. I would have to come back on Friday for an ACL repair. They were hopeful that the snap was clean and they would be able to sew the two ends back together. I was in a bit of shock but as instructed, went home to watch the video. It’s weird to watch the inside of your knee. The video showed two ends of something that looked like an underwater tentacled monster with straggling fingers.
Friday arrived, the brief was a little daunting but surgery would be at 3pm. They would open up my knee in two places. The operation would take 1 to 2 hours. When I came round my left leg would be in plaster from my ankle to my thigh, basically set straight. I would have a drain in my knee drawing out any fluid build-up within the knee joint. I would have a drip in my arm and drip in my tummy that would administer pain killers intravenously every hour. Basically I was going to be bed-bound for 5 days, in lots of pain and obviously feeling very sorry for myself.
To be continued………