Marking almost 4 years to the day that I suffering that horrific injury against our local rivals Nottingham Forest and thanks to the testimonial committee approaching the club and Derby County accepting the game, I’ll finally get the opportunity to play in the Derby County shirt once again. To say I’ve worked relentlessly and had to be unbelievably patient is an understatement. Will it be worth all the effort?……undoubtedly!
I’ve tried to document my road to recovery, both life in general and of course my rehabilitation, but nothing that you’ve read or heard can come close to how hard it’s been over the last 4 years. It’s true that I never wanted to become a Professional Footballer, numerous times throughout the early stages of my career I wanted to quit and go through the educational system like so many of my friends. It was only persuasion from a few people that made me stick with the career that was presented in front of me. I have, however, never disputed the amazing, privileged life we have as Footballers and after experiencing the high of playing my first professional game (Brighton vs Rotherham) I knew this was a career I strived to be part of for as long as possible.
By the time I signed for DCFC in the summer of 2009 at the tender age of 26 I’d already reached nearly 300 professional games. Injures had been few and far between up to that point (I’d played 150 for Blackpool in the three previous season, only missing 2 games through injury) and the best part of my career should have been in front of me. Unfortunately lady luck wasn’t on my side and injuries played a huge role in my 6 years at Derby County.
I’m not superstitious, I don’t believe in fate or that everything happens for a reason, I believe things just happen. So much of life is uncontrollable, but what we can affect and control is our reaction to any disappointments we face. Of course I’m devastated that injury has spoilt my career but I’m grateful of the career I’ve had and hopefully what remains.
It took 3 gruelling years of rehab to get back playing competitive football, which I achieved for the first time in March last year when I played for Derby County’s under 21 side at Moor Farm. I mentioned at the time, and I stick to what I said then, it was the greatest accomplishment of my career! Belief that I would return kept me motivated throughout, although a times it was a struggle. After 4 operations, around 20 aspirations (drains of the knee), numerous setbacks and a knee that after almost 2 years post operation was still agonisingly painful at times, my patience and mental strength was put to the test.
I could not have returned to playing without the help and support of my family, especially my amazing wife Bec. Her life changed on 13th March just as much as mine. For the 18 months after the my initial surgery she had to go above and beyond her call of duty to help care for me and our daughters and put her career on hold until I was capable of living a normal life again. Friends and family have been nothing but supportive throughout, helping anyway they can. Neil Sullivan and the rest of the Physio department have to take a lot of credit for the work and time they’ve spent on me helping after the original operation and my rehabilitation. Steve Haines (DCFC Strength and Conditioning coach) and Julia Hayton (Rehab Specialist at Function Jigsaw) have spent countless hours rebuilding my legs and body to be able to put me through vigorous training to reach a playing level again. So many people have been part of my journey, none more so than you, the DCFC supporters. I feel thoroughly humbled and honoured at the level of support I have received from the initial ill fated evening of the injury continuing to this point. Your belief and tireless best wishes throughout have been greatly appreciated and not playing a competitive match for the club again was not only tough for me to take personally but hard to not have had the chance to say goodbye properly. The Testimonial Year and especially the match will be that opportunity.
I’d like to finish by stating that although I’ve faced some bad times at Derby County I’m not regretful about anything. I’ve given nothing less than 100% of my effort throughout, both on and off the pitch, many times sacrificing myself for the team. I feel privileged to have worn the Rams badge, honoured to have won the Jack Stamps Trophy and to have been the Club Captain for 4 of my 6 years at Derby County is something I’ll never forget.
I wish everyone associated with Derby County all the very best for the rest of the season and future and look forward to seeing you at events over the course of the year.