At every level of football, serious injury is a traumatic time for players. In most cases, though,there’s a way back-and Garforth Town midfielder Ross Shelton took time out to share his own experience with Craig Kendall from the Bootiful Game in the hope that his story will encourage others on the way back from long-term setbacks, writes Colin Muncie.
Here’s Ross’s recollection of the incident and his long road back. It’s an honest story of guts,pain, frustration, disappointment…but hopefully, a long-awaited happy ending is not too far away.Let Ross take up the story.
“It was Handsworth Parramore v Parkgate, a Northern Counties Premier Division fixture at Sandy Lane, in September 2016,” Ross recalled … “I can remember thinking –and agreeing with the lads before the game -about how hard the pitch was that day –I’ve never known it so hard there. It was just after half time and I was centre half that day. The ball came over my head on the halfway line and I turned with no one around me, and that was it -as easy as that!
I planted my left leg in the ground , with me going one way and my knee going the other. I will never forget the sound it made. I knew straightaway that something was badly wrong. I can remember thinking at first “I’ve broken my leg “-but then I looked up and everything looked as it should. The pain was unbearable though – I had never felt anything like it.”
At first-as all players do-I thought “ I’ll be okay in five minutes and be able to run it off-but not this time” Ross went on. “Our Physio for that game was actually a stand- in; he ran on straight away and he said ‘Ross, I think you’ve done your ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) or MCL (Medial Cruciate Ligament –these are two of the four crucial knee ligaments).
I just thought “ah, he’s probably got it wrong -or he’s just guessing -and I didn’t really take on board what he said. I tried to get up but there was no way I could walk, or put any pressure on it , so I seem to recall that a couple of the lads helped me off into the changing rooms. It seemed to take ages to get off the pitch, and I laid on the floor trying to get changed to go to closest hospital at Bassetlaw. Looking back now I was sitting in a wheelchair in Bassetlaw Hospital.
The doctor who saw me actually said “go home and ice it “; he thought I had just sprained it and the bruising would go down …..but I couldn’t walk and I knew that there was something seriously wrong. Looking back it’s pretty crazy what he said to me that night -but that’s a different story. The pain was excruciating. I can remember going to a party that nighton crutches and -to be honest- I still thought – more in hope -that it wasn’t going to be too bad and I would be back playing again in a couple of weeks”.
“The next part is the part where it really hits you -and you know it’s not good “Ross recalled.“A couple of days after that Saturday I went to see the Specialist to get the verdict. It was stillin my mind I would be back playing in a couple of weeks. Maybe not!! As I was lying on the bed the specialist was touching and moving my leg. I will never forget his face as he was doing it -I knew straight away it wasn’t good news.
He told me that I’d shattered my knee, myACL AND MCL. and in the next breath he advised me that I should never play again. Of course, I’m thinking “no, he’s got it wrong “but I looked at my dad and our faces must have been a picture. For somebody to say that to you from playing from such a young age it just absolutely devastates you -and shuts you down”“I still think at that time I didn’t really kind of believe I wouldn’t play again -and I knew I would be back”, Ross insisted.
Fast forward to 9th December, 2016. Ross told us “It was Op. day. I was buzzing-I couldn’t wait to have it done and to start the road to recovery. I had a full reconstruction on my left knee; the operation went well and I would be ready –after a few weeks of Physio- to get backon that pitch”Ross is keen to share the fact that it wasn’t just the knee which needed care after the operation-it was his mental well-being too, a point he’s anxious to emphasise.
“The next bit for me is the most important thing to get across to players -of all levels- who go through a bad and lengthy injury” he stressed to Craig.” As time passed during my physiotherapy, it wasn’t just the “getting better” process that was hard for me -it was the mental side as well. A day wouldn’t go by without me questioning whether I would play again. It gets you down, and for me, it was very hard to accept the fact that maybe I wouldn’t kick a ball again .It affects you in so many different ways -going from playing week in, week out, and injury- free to being pretty much cut off from everything in the game. Just getting my socks on or getting in and out of the shower without pain seemed like a big success.”
I had -and still have -a lot of setbacks; just when you think maybe you are getting there, something comes up -and you seem like your back to square one. “When I had the call from my old gaffer at Garforth Town -the newly appointed Manager at Parkgate ,Graham Nicholas, asking if I would be his Assistant there, I am not going to lie- I was buzzing”, Ross went on. “It was like I had been given a lifeline -and a purpose-in the game once more. I was back!! That I will never forget- and I don’t really think Graham really knows how much that meant to me. We were successful, and we kept the club in the NCEL Premier Division – but it was nothing like playing.”
“It was good that I was still in the game but I knew I had to get back playing and soon” Ross admitted.” One of the first things I was told after my injury was not to come back too early. Many people said that to me and they were right!! I tried to come on for 10 or15 minutes here and there to build my fitness up, but, as I said before, everything seemed to be going toplan then boom ….something would happen, an awkward landing or turn and I would be back to square one.”
After Graham Nicholas had moved on, Ross spent a brief spell in the hot seat at Green Lane, “I had a few games in charge at Parkgate, but it wasn’t the most successful time to say the least“ Ross admitted, adding “but it made me realise that I was too young to go into Management. In my head –and at just 27 -I felt that I still had at least six or seven years left as a player”.
Ross headed back to familiar surroundings “My next move was back to my old club at Garforth Town” he told us “Despite my injury and my current situation, Miners’ gaffer Rob Hunter and Smudge (Assistant Manager Mark Smitheringale) gave me a glimmer of hope and a chance to get back in the game-and for that I will always owe and appreciate them a lot. I knew I wasn’t ready or fit enough to play -but I still told myself that I could build my kneeup and be back in no time. After the first few games, I’m sure that the gaffer and the lads realised that I wasn’t quite ready to come back yet, but I was still insisting that I would be fineand back in no time”
Sadly, though, another setback was just around the corner for Ross. The final step was at Maltby away on a Wednesday night”, he continued “It must have been -3 ; it was freezing. It was the first game I had started in 16/17 months, and I was like a kid at Christmas before the game. As the game went on, I felt okay until just before half time. I had the ball on the left wing with no-one near me; I turned and that was it. It’s hard to explain how it feels when you haven’t had the injury -but it feel like your knee just gives way and swells up badly”.
“That was the first time since my recovery that I kind of realised that I wasn’t ready and that I was getting nowhere like this. When I first suffered the injury back in September 2016, I remember people telling me not to come back too quickly; and, as I have proved, that is the best bit of advice you can give anyone going through a bad injury. So I sat down with the Rob Hunter, and I told him that as it was close to the end of the season I was going to leave and get myself right for pre- season, to get back 100% ready”.
Fast forward to earlier this week, and Ross updated us on his progress “Here we are now a few weeks before pre- season”, he reported “and although there are still setbacks, I am looking forward to the new season and getting back playing- ‘but not too soon’. I am definitely looking forward to the new season and repaying everyone at Garforth Town FC who has put their faith in me”.
Ross has some strong words of advice for those involved in the rehabilitation of injured players. “For anyone who is going through a bad injury -at whatever level- I definitely believe the support especially mental support –is so important and essential. I hear so many times –as with me- that it is the mental side of getting back that is equally as difficult as the physical aspect”.
“On a personal note, I would just like to thank my family, my friends, Garforth Town FC, Parkgate FC, and you guys at the Bootiful Game for your continued support because without your close ones the battle against injury and recovery is so much longer and harder” Ross added.
“If this article even helps just one person or gives them a bit of hope to come back then it has done its job.”
Everyone at the Bootiful Game and at Parkgate FC would like to thank Ross for his honest assessment of a horrendous injury and its aftermath, and wishes him every success for the forthcoming season at Garforth.